By Alfredo Hernandez
In the 1970’s, the “Work Smart, Not Hard” campaign pushed young high school students to strive for a college education and cast aside the chains of blue-collar work.
Today, Americans whine and scream about the lack of good American jobs. Our factories are shutting down, immigrants are taking our jobs, and our college degrees are slowly becoming worthless. Our factory workers do not want to accept lower pay, Americans do not want to work in cornfields, and the job market cannot withstand the oversaturation of liberal arts majors that colleges and universities have been churning out for the past three decades.
What we have been led to believe is that the key to success is a college degree. With one piece of paper, some believe that we can escape the shackles of monotony and earn hefty sums of money for little to no work. If the simple fact that we are in possession of a degree grants us direct access to jobs from the get-go. Many in our generation would rather go to a community college for a degree in psychology or visual arts than go to trade school or work an apprenticeship. We see ourselves as superior to that work; we feel entitled to something more.
Schools have begun to drop trade-based classes in favor of more academic classes. The shift toward “collegization” is evident in everyday life. Every high school senior is asked, “What college do you want to go to?” as if college is the next logical step.
This attitude is what is killing us. As long as the stigma against trade schools and blue-collar work exists, our job situation will never progress for the better.
The harsh reality is that a college education is not for everyone. Not everyone can nor should they be a theoretical physicist. Not everyone can nor should they be a world-class musician or artist. We all strive for occupations in positions that are filled by the one-in-a-million individual. For our generation to be financially secure in the future, we must retract our heads from the clouds.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, if it is a liberal arts degree, the median salary sits roughly around $39,400. For a plumber, the median starting salary is $50,180. At the peak salary ages of 40-50 years old, an average liberal arts major will take home $60,000 dollars a year. A plumber surely cannot out-earn a seasoned college graduate, can they? A seasoned plumber rakes in roughly $86,000 a year.
Trade jobs such as plumbers, electricians, construction workers, mechanics, or even retail workers cannot be outsourced. Until teleportation is perfected, your plumbing must be fixed by someone physically present in your house. These jobs are secure.
We as a society must do two things: we must be realistic with our abilities and expectations, and we must cease disparaging work that we consider beneath us.
I am not saying that we should all stop going to college; that would be a ludicrous idea and would halt the intellectual progress of the country.
What I am saying is that college is not the end-all-be-all and other routes should not be overlooked. The world will always need more engineers and doctors, and they will certainly get paid barrels for their services. But a trade job will also make you good money if you work hard and apply yourself. It seems that the ad campaign in the 1970’s was almost right. What it should have said is “Work Smart and Hard.”
So when college season rolls around, do not feel the need to reach beyond your abilities. Think hard about your choices and look for what is right for you, not everyone else.