ESSENTIAL

“Far too many corporations think they have a smart system and stupid workers. They’ve got it backwards.- Bruce E. Babbit”

It is more convenient to assume that reality is similar to our preconceived ideas than to freshly observe what we have before our eyes- Robert Fritz.

I was having a dialog with a friend recently. I highly prize speaking with this individual. Unlike the usual discussion ( same root as percussion or concussion, a heaving back and forth in a winner-take-all competition), we come away from our time together having tweaked our positions on the topic. Our perspectives become richer, broader and deeper.

My friend is a “Googler”, part of a team responsible for maintenance of Google software. Unlike most workers, my friend’s work as experienced no significant disruption this year.

Our discussion drifted into the effect of Covid-19 and work that society considers essential. We laughed, with a mixture of irony and sadness, that those workers essential to keeping our society functioning at a basic level, essential to keeping us alive, are among the lowest paid in our economy. Yes, the medical profession of doctor, nurse, and the various hospital technicians are not in that category. There are other exceptions as well. But workers in the trenches of the food, fuel, transportation, sanitation, utility supply chains are considered essential, and they don’t make much. Those without a college education face low, stagnant wages, no labor organization to force corporations to pay a living wage, and dismissal of their work by the educated.

When I left the workplace temporarily in 2019 to pursue of a new career I made about 50$/hour as a salaried Engineer with a BS & MS in Chemical Engineering. I was the sole breadwinner for myself, wife and 3 children throughout most of our married life. We did fine financially, and have an excellent financial nest egg for our future even with the current market disruptions.

I always worked for Manufacturing companies, but never worked directly on making the products that were sold and provided income to the company. When working in the Medical Device and Aerospace industries much of my time was spent addressing the requirements of the corporate and federal bureaucracies, rewriting documents over and over to satisfy the long list of reviewers, sitting in endless meetings trying to get reviewers to sign documents. There were times when I would use my engineering skills. I really loved my work then. But overall my time split was 95% feeding the bureaucracy, 5% using my engineering skills.

Our operators made less than half of what I made. They were the ones who were actually running the machines, using their hands to build our products. I and all the other engineers could leave permanently, and between the operators and maintenance technicians the product would continue to be built. Retain the logistics and sales people and the company can continue making money.

I found it so ironic: companies paid me good money for my engineering skills yet I spent most of time doing work requiring no engineering skills. Then, they paid much less money to people actually building the product that produced income.

The one thing I did learn in my career was to appreciate those operators and technicians. They became my friends. I always valued their unique insights into the product and its manufacture. I avoided any demanding, unnecessary and unpleasant behaviors that made their non living wage job even worse.

If I have any advice for the educated entering the workplace it is this: develop a rapport with those in the trenches, even if you don’t “relate”. You’ll do better work. The company will be stronger. They’ll take care of you, and there may come a time when they’re the only ones who can get you out of hot water.

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