Sunday, April 21, 2013

Do You Want some Tolstoy with that Burger?

Flora Nicholson's 1911 MacDonald Teachers College Portfolio. In 1910, with all the immigrants pouring in, there was a crying need for teachers. So Flora, who didn't even pass her High School (failing French) still got into teaching school and got a good paying job on the Montreal Board. Timing is everything in life, especially when it comes to work and education.

There are about 800 thousand Americans with college degrees working in the fast food industry.

I can believe it. 

Just yesterday I was talking to a young Canadian woman who has an MA in a field she chose, in part,  for its much-touted market-value and she told me that, after more than a year,  only 2 women in her Post Graduate class have found jobs in their field, and those particular jobs are very low paying.

This woman, herself,  has just taken a post as a receptionist, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, data-base entry, a job once considered unskilled, or a fit for high school graduates, and she is happy for it. 

This is a full -time job, with a reasonable entry-level salary and benefits. She had been looking for a full-time job for a year.

Canadian universities are pouring out graduates, but an undergraduate degree is pretty useless these days, unless it's Ivy League, because in that case your intern for free for a couple of years, or  you find work through your well-heeled connections or with Dad and Mom.

Who You Know has always been important when looking for a job, but it's simply critical in sorry economic times.

And then there's all the outsourcing. 

The other day I received an email for India. It was from a publisher asking me for permission to use an essay I wrote years ago in a certain textbook.

I contacted the author, asking "Are your books being sold in India, now?" and she replied. "No. They have just outsourced the North American permissions people." 

The author is worried. She knows the person who once held this particular outsourced job. "If all the good jobs in Canada are outsourced, there will only be slim-pickings left for our children," the author mused.

My friendly bank manager, though, says not to worry. (I was visiting her to help my own underemployed son with his student loans.)


Because, the boomers are retiring and  soon there will be many job openings, she says, even for this graduating class. SO SHE SAYS. 

Somehow, I don't believe her.

I am a writer who specializes in the 1910 era. 

Threshold Girl is about a teaching student in 1910. In that era, the Powers that Be were also grappling with the issue of employment, or mass unemployment, occasioned by the Industrial Age and galloping technological change.

In that era, in Canada, we had the Royal Commission on Industrial Training andTechnical Education, a government task force that spent three years (1910-1913) researching the new 'global'  workplace reality and who eventually recommended in a Final Report that the government turn back the clock and teach more women to be homemakers and domestics and more men to be farmers. 

It was the In Your Proper Place era. (And, then, fortuitously followed WWI to kill off the many unemployable young agrarian-age men in Europe.)

That's the irony... Governments pretend to want change, but they actually want to maintain the status quo. 

I imagine it's the very same today.

( They say there are bazillions of excellent 'trades jobs' going unfilled, but from what I know, that's because the employers only want to hire people with the EXACT qualifications, as they are not willing to spend 5 minutes on re-training.  

So if there is a job opening for a PIPE fitter "A" and someone with PIPE Fitter "B" qualifications applies, he won't be considered.  So then kids go into courses teaching PIPE FITTER "B" but by the time they graduate there are only openings for Pipe Fitter "C". It's a kind of self-fulfilling unemployment syndrome!

Here in Canada we've had high unemployment for so long, I have to assume that's the way the government (and big business) likes it. 

Despite all the Economic Action Plan PR Drivel we are assaulted with on TV. 

It's either that, or our leaders and their highly-paid highly-educated economic advisers are all totally inept.

Here's an interesting article about Education from 1909 that is still relevant today.   

From Educational Foundations June 1909
(A.S. Barnes and Company)

Opening to Essay Education-The Economic Side by Will Scott.

The state would educate the young in order to make them better citizens; in order to advance civilization. It being desirable that all of its people be good citizens, the state strives to educate the children of all.

The theory held by the state is also the theory of the individual – so far as other people’s children are concerned. They are to be educated so they will not violate the law – not cross swords with society.  But as to their own children, that is quite a different matter. They should be educated not only to make them good citizens, and not chiefly for that purpose, but to give them an advantage in the struggle for existence.  The object of education for one’s own children is not so much to live better but to get a better living; not so much to do better work but to get better pay….Education gives the individual an advantage in the struggle for existence only when he has more of it than his fellows…From an industrial viewpoint, education is a labor-saving machine, enabling one man to do what ten did before. Like other improvements, it tends to decrease the number of jobs, and thus to sharpen competition and decrease wages.

Excerpt from School Power: A Pressing Necessity (Frank Tate, Australian Director of Education).

We must recognize, that in the struggle for existence, the law of the survival of the fittest applies to nations as to individuals, and that in this struggle for existence there is not only the struggle that results in the open shock of war, but the less obtrusive but no less intense struggle of peace, the struggle for trade supremacy. We must realize too how different modern conditions are from those that obtained even fifty years ago. The history of the past thirty years yields ample evidence that command of markets is to be won by the nation that brings knowledge and training to bear upon the operations of producing and marketing commodities which the world wants.