For the last year I’ve written with a fairly academic and tongue-in-cheek tone. One, because I enjoy it and two, because it helps keep my perspective clear and objective. It’s the same reason I don’t rely too heavily on personal anecdotes.
However, after two years of informational interviewing with just about everyone in Boise, offering to work for free, being told I’m overqualified, that my resume looks great, that I’m under-qualified, that I have no experience, that I’m too independent, that I’m not independent enough, that I’m too East Coast, I have taken a job with an investment firm in Kansas City, and thus this will be my last column.
I want to offer some personal observations from a micro and a macro level about what I have seen as a driven but underemployed 20-something in Boise.
By all accounts, I fit the bill for the Occupy movement. With degrees from two highly regarded institutions, creative, and intelligent, I expected to find a job. I didn’t assume one would be handed to me, but like many of those protesting, I found the process far more difficult than expected.
I recently attempted to set an informational interview with an investment banker in Seattle. I wasn’t asking for a job, but his response explained that he would never consider hiring me because I have no previous experience nor am I an Ivy graduate. What’s remarkable is that this person graduated in the early 1980s with only a B.A. from Carleton College.
At that time a bachelor’s degree was all one needed because companies used to train people on the job. In the old model, firms hired smart people and trained them. Now firms hire specialized people and hope employees learn to see the big picture.
My generation entered school on the premise of the former model, and came out on the latter. Sure anyone can be adaptable, but obtaining specialized skills often requires more schooling, which for many, means accumulating more debt and delaying the start of a career—in other words, taking a large discount in lifetime earnings.
In addition to the rapidly changing demands of employers, many young folk suffer from the tyranny of the internship. Internships provide great experience and help companies reduce paying for professional development and training. But many people can’t afford the luxury of working for free and internships price out people who need them, which means they are less “experienced” in the field they want to enter compared to the fellow who could afford the internship.
The liberal arts and college in general used to be for the affluent in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Then higher education was democratized and by the mid-1990s one frequently heard that majors didn’t really matter. Well now we’ve come full circle, because majors do matter again and the liberal arts have less footing than ever.
As the current generation drifts towards majors that prepare them for a specific job, I worry about the loss in broad-based critical thinking skill, especially in ethical reasoning. We too often joke about philosophy or English majors unable to ‘contribute’ to a workforce because a lack of skills. In reality, these folks, at least the ones I know, could contribute a great deal if—and here’s the key—given the chance.
Unfortunately so many young folks, myself included, entered the workforce at the wrong time, and instead of adapting many want to see a new economic and political structure.
Unlike the protesters I don’t believe that we need a total restructuring of our political and economical system. Certainly, I think there are some things that would help. For instance, investment banks should never have been allowed to go public back in the 1980s, proprietary trading is not really in the customer’s best interest, and no-doc loans should go away.
What frightens me, though, is that I believe our hands are tied because—whether I like it or not—the banks and their lobbyists might be right about how increased regulation will keep us at a competitive disadvantage and that won’t help any city create jobs. In other words, it requires global regulatory effort and participation to stabilize the world economy. That stabilization matters for small towns, no matter how far apart they seem. If there’s any doubt, we got rid of the Monroe Doctrine a century ago.
Anyone who thinks European debt should only be solved by Europe, as Republican candidates announced in this week’s debate, doesn’t realize that it was that disassociation that led mortgage lenders to offer no-doc loans and sell them to Wall Street banks. If you’re not responsible for the risk, then you choose not to see it. Think of Europe as the Wall Street banks and America as Boise. Due to Wall Street’s problems, Boise has problems. In fact, that’s why I must leave.
To solve problems at a macro level requires an international regulating effort. Good luck. At the micro level, the one we can control requires investing in on-the-job training, it requires the risk to hire smart people sans the technical skills, and it requires that individuals continue to follow their dreams, challenge themselves, and embrace the changes around them.
Thank you Boise for all you have offered and all your kindness. And thanks to the Idaho Business Review for letting me voice my opinions week after week.
You can reach Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on twitter @tuckslos, or visit his personal blog http://tuckerslosburg.tumblr.com/