Credentialism and Employment

I just wanted to highlight this incredible comment thread from the excerpt of my book that ran on The Atlantic’s website last week.

petefrombaltimore  

On a related note, i think that a major problem with our economy nowdays, is that many employers wont hire people that arent 100% qualified.And completly trained. So young people often dont get a chance to learn on the job. This isnt just in offices. Many construction companies used to hire people and let them learn on the job. But that is much rarer nowdays.

I think that its very short sighted of employers. They wont hire someone who may make a few mistakes, because the employer is waiting for a “Perfect” job applicant to apply.

Its been my personal experience that employees with little or no experince in construction,, but who are willing to learn, are far better than guys who “Know it all”, and who wont learn from thier mistakes or even acknowledge their mistakes

  • merfinderfin  

    I wonder though, how much this has to do with the fact that so many of the people we deal with nowadays no longer come from communities we’re familiar with. When you got your very first construction job, did you get it by walking in off the street and applying for it? Or did your dad (or some other authority figure in your life) take you to the work site, introduce you to the foreman who he had known since high school, and say “Bob, this is my kid, Pete, can you give him a job?” (And maybe after you were out of earshot he said to Bob, “Don’t let him get away with anything.”)

    I feel like one of the reasons finding a job has become so difficult is because Americans don’t belong to these informal networks the way they used to.

    • petefrombaltimore  

      merfinderfin
      Thats an extremely good point.And i definetly agree.

      And it isnt just construction.Many smaller businesses, whether office related work, or small family owned manufacturing businesses, have been bought up by larger companies. James Fallows did a couple of good articles about this. With smaller locally owned businesses, there is a sot of social contract with a town or neighborhood

      I often have guys that im friends with in my neighborhood, ask me for work when they are temporarly laid off.Some are even office or tech workers. My construction company is fairly small[about 6 full time workers and about 6 part time guys that help me on their days off]. But i always manage to find them a few days of work.Even if it costs me more labor costs than i need to spend. And i cant complain about this social obligation.Since i never have problems finding workers in the neighborhood.Since i live in the neighborhood where i do my construction work

      Thats how it used to be in south East Baltimore.But there are almost no construction bosses working in my neighborhood that actually live in it. This gives me an advantage in finding good labor. And its why my competitors always hire immigrants instead of American vorn workers. I have hired a couple of immigrants that i know from my neighborhood.And have nothinga aginst immigrants. But my point is that the bosses that say that they “Cant find good American born workers” are often bosses that dont live in the area where their business is.And so they dont really know the locals. Whereas i know who is a good guy and who is a drug addict to be avoided

      Communities used to have local “handymen” who did odd jobs in the neighborhood.But those kind of guys dont really exist in tract housing areas. I was 33 years old before i even owned a telephone of any kind.But i used to have guys knocking on my door or yelling up tp my window telling me that they had a day or weeks worth of work for me.

      Some didnt even know me that well. One approached me on the street, and told me to give him a call if i ever needed a job. He lived in the neighborhood.And always saw me walking down the street, covered in dirt or concrete.So he said that i must be a good worker if i was that dirty after my day’s work[i later worked for him for two yeas]

      I think thats a major reason for what caused large scale immigration. the old informal networks that many american guys[especially lower income workers] depended on, disapeared. So immigrants filled that void. Now most bosses just drive down to the local 7/11 to pick up immigrant day laborers

      • I would add to my comment by noting that this “Formalising” of work, allows workers less leeway in making mistakes once hired. I mostly hire guys that i know from the neighborhood, And often guys that live less than a hundred feet from me. So im much more willing to cut them slack for making a mistake than if i barely knew them.

        And it used to be that bosses were guys that worked their way up.that still often happens. But a lot of larger construction companies, prefer to hire colelge grads straight out of school, to be supertendants on large job sites. The bosses arent bad guys.But they have no experience. The old bosses would curse you out for making a mistake.and then, during lunch break, they would laugh about your mistake and tell you a story about how they made the same type of mistake 20 years ago when they were a laborer

        I made plenty of screw ups back when i worked as a 19 year old construction laborer.So im willing to forgive the mistakes my younger employees make. Sadly, its getting more and more harder for a laborer to work his way up to being a superintendent or a company owner. Or even to being a foremen . So the newer construction bosses are a lot more educated than the ones that i grew up with.But they have less empathy for their workers. They arent mean or heartless. They just havent been in their workers shoes before.

        Every time i want to yell at one of my workers for making a mistake, i try to remember back when i was a young, 19 year old, dumb*ss laborer

        • merfinderfin 

          That’s absolutely true in my field. I’m a construction foreman in the entertainment industry. And as recently as a decade ago, most of the people in this line of work “fell into it” either from “regular” construction or just because they knew someone else who was doing it who brought them on when they were out of work. You’d have a lot of would-be actors who were better at swinging a hammer than reading their lines, and a lot of the old stagehands came out of the Navy, because they had more experience than anyone else with rigging. You always worked your way up from the bottom.

          That’s completely changed now. I have a Master of Fine Arts in this field. Most of the young people coming up have B.A.s and B.F.A.s in Theater Arts or something similar, and young, promising carpenters are often told something along the lines of “Of course you’ll only do this for a couple of years before applying to MFA programs.” Many of the companies nowrequire an MFA for their supervisory positions. I guess it helps them weed people out, but I’ve been in this business for two decades now and I can tell you I’ve worked for some incredible people who didn’t even have a high school diploma, and some terrible people who had MFAs. Like everything else, it’s a mixed bag. My assistant is 25 years old, has just a BA, and is amazing. The biggest obstacle she has to advancing in the field is not having the MFA. And why should she get one? 3 years of her life and $50,000 (at the low end) in debt just for more responsibility, more stress, and a bump in pay of a couple grand per year?

          In the second year of my MFA work, we got a crop of 22-year-olds who were fresh out of college. My advisor’s attitude at the time was “I can teach anyone to be a manager.” Well, yes you can, but you can’t teach them what good craftsmanship looks like, or the different personality types you run into in this business and how to work with them, or the humility that comes from years of paying your dues. But I think the people who run the grad programs prefer the young inexperienced kids because they don’t come in with the attitude of “This is how it’s done,” and the people hiring at the companies prefer the people with the advanced degrees because the degree has become the new metric in the absence of the old familiar networks. And by the way–the only places you still find those old networks now are in the big unionized movie studios in L.A. and the Broadway houses in New York. Since those workers still have a modicum of control over their workplaces and wages and those markets are pretty large, the people who run those shops still tend to be native New Yorkers or Angelenos. Not coincidentally, those are also the hardest places for young, inexperienced technicians to break into, if they weren’t already part of those informal networks because of family or friends.

One thought on “Credentialism and Employment

  1. Very good comments (as one always gets from pete).I wonder how those informal networks formed originally and the place of the decline of unions and EEO in changing it? I’d guess most informal networks in the past didn’t cross racial/ethnic lines, Back in the old days, circa 1970, the craft unions were strong, but under pressure to desegregate. These days I never hear about the craft unions. Now the selection process focuses on credentials rather than the old-boys network it seems harder to bring a complaint of bias. Whether there’s causation in there, I don’t know.

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