Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Career Opportunities

Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.

The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald recently featured an in-depth cover story on the top-25 fastest-growing jobs in the state of Maine (June 2013). Not surprisingly, the most anticipated jobs are either in health care (due to Maine's aging population) or retail. With the exception of nursing, none of the jobs featured requires any college education. In fact, most of those featured state the educational requirements as "Less than high school."

Securing a job--any job--in the 21st century is possibly the most frustrating, frequently demeaning exercise in modern life. I had an easier time writing my 30-page master's thesis in graduate school. No joke.

Here is what I have learned about the job-searching process. Emailing resumes and applying for jobs online--the default mode now for most job-seekers--is basically a massive waste of time.

The majority of companies, when they need positions filled, simply hire from within. They regularly post job ads online and in the local newspapers to fulfill their claims to being an "equal opportunity" employer. Even when those ads are "legit," the employer typically already has a candidate in mind for the position--someone they already know or who currently works for them. In other words, they are not so much hiring as promoting.

If you are a stranger to employers in your community, if you do not have the "connections" of a Harvard graduate or a Justin Alfond, your chances of getting a job are virtually hopeless. As far as employers are concerned, you do not exist.

Growing up in southern Maine, I never had trouble finding summer work, especially at restaurants in Kennebunkport. The pay was usually pretty decent, too. Often times, you could walk right into a restaurant before it opened for the season and they would hire you right on the spot. Now, even teenagers cannot find work.

I have been working with a "job developer" through the Portland Career Center in order to secure some additional work. (Freelance writing is great when there is work available, but it's no way to make a living.) He constantly stresses the importance of "networking," a popular buzz-word in Business. His latest task for me is to create a list of literally every person that I know. Then, through that list, I am to "network" through to employers I am interested in working for. One must, he insists, be prepared to deliver his "elevator speech," (your glorified marketing pitch, basically) at all times.

Problem with this approach is nearly everybody I know is also either unemployed, underemployed or working at a minimum-wage job that does not utilize their college education at all. In fact, a number of my friends my age have given up looking for traditional jobs altogether and are attempting to make it as self-employed contractors. Either way, nobody I know is in any position to hire me for anything.

Such list-making chores are what my students would have called "busy work." Remember in high school when your homework assignment was to read the chapter in the textbook and then answer the summary questions at the chapter's end in order to demonstrate that you actually read it? That's busy work.

Employers and the power elite understand the importance of distracting unemployed and recently laid-off Americans with mindless, largely fruitless tasks such as list-making. Other such tasks include resume updating, enrolling in skills-oriented community college classes, and visiting your local career center for job-seeking advice from overworked job coaches who typically have less education than you do. "Finding a job is itself a full-time job," they tell you. "Get up early every day and dress up as if you were still going to work."

The goal is to keep unemployed workers so thoroughly busy and distracted with their (again, largely fruitless) job searches and resume-writing classes, they do not stop and dwell on their justifiable anger at their former employers and corporate America in general. In fact, one of the Portland Career Center's principal pieces of advice for clients is to "never become bitter," at their situation. "Look at it, instead," they urge, patronizingly, "as a new opportunity. This is your chance to finally pursue the job you have always wanted!"

While it is certainly understandable why a positive, "glass-is-half-full" attitude seems more desirable than wallowing in despair and depression, this sort of disingenuous, forced positivity that intentionally ignores objective reality can be just as destructive. Self-help authors and pseudo-psychologists have created an entire cottage industry in recent years around the "science" of positive thinking. Bestselling authors like Richard Bolles (What Color is Your Parachute?) and Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), peddle a childish, highly discredited junk-psychology that makes readers believe in a metaphysical sort of positive thinking that can literally influence the course of one's life.

As Barbara Ehrenreich explains in her book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (Picador, 2009), this sort of "magical thinking" has permeated our entire culture. She writes:

People who had been laid off from their jobs and were spiraling down toward poverty were told to see their condition as an "opportunity" to be embraced, just as breast cancer is often depicted as a "gift."...In fact, there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure.
....Need money? Wealth is one of the principal goals of positive thinking... There are hundreds of self-help books expounding on how positive thinking can "attract" money--a method supposedly so reliable that you are encouraged to begin spending it now. Why has wealth eluded you so far? Practical problems like low wages, unemployment, and medical bills are mentioned only as potential "excuses." The real obstacle lies in your mind... (p.45-46)
This new-age method of blaming the victim essentially redirects unemployed Americans' rage inward rather than toward those who truly deserve it--Wall Street, Congress and Corporate America. It also prevents the unemployed or underemployed from pooling their collective anger together in a mass uprising a la Occupy Wall Street or the early labor protests of the 1930s. Indeed, the lure and false hopes provided by the positive thinking industry may go a long way toward explaining why, as so many political theorists have pondered, Americans have not yet undergone their own "Arab Spring," beyond the short-lived and structurally dysfunctional Occupy.

Network's Howard Beale was right: "First, you've got to get mad!" But the propagandistic cult of positive thinking all but assures laid off workers do not get mad.

Even when my job coach offers up some potential jobs where he has "ins" they are all service sector, minimum wage positions (Target, Wal-Mart, Staples, Wendy's), none of which require any college education. All of his professed "insider knowledge" and "networks" apparently does not extend to the sort of professional, white-collar jobs I always envisioned myself doing.

This is the future of work: Retail-oriented, labor-intensive, erratic hours, minimum wage (at most), part-time, no benefits, no worker protections and no job security. In fact, given Maine's status as an "At Will" work state, these jobs also offer no guarantee of permanent employment. Employees can be fired at any time, for basically any reason.

Here's your slice of American Dream. Would you like fries with that?

Readers can help alleviate my financial stress by making a donation to this blog. Contrary to popular belief, writing is a "real" job and those who practice it deserve to be compensated. Any amount is greatly appreciated.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Sorry. I noticed a typo. Here's the re-post.)

    I may not be as liberal as you, but I share your feelings about social conscience, social responsibility, and accessibility to the American Dream.

    As my Dad said, the revolution begins from within.

    I took that to heart. If I'm going to make a difference, I need to make the money to do so. I did it By monetizing my writing activity without compromising my beliefs.

    If you want to at least consider it, take a look at my intro page:


    Yes, it's network marketing, but it's working for me in a manner I find palatable.

    In any event, here's hoping you have satisfaction in all your endeavors!