Our View of Work Shifts to a New Reality 

We can’t know everything.

That’s why the world has professionals that provide services we need in areas we know little about. It’s an endless list that includes carpenters, electricians, doctors, waiters, farmers, cashiers, butchers and nuclear plant operators. They provide a needed service to make a living and it’s likely how we make (or made) ours.

My profession was in information technology. I can still configure a wireless network and fix some computer issues. But I am in awe of the knowledge I see in car technicians, carpenters, plumbers, etc. That’s because I know very little about any of it. When I speak to an electrician, I only want to know enough about what I need done to speak intelligently about it. And avoid electrocution.

I know very little about carpentry. I have a saw, a hammer and some nails. But that’s about it for my carpentry tool chest and I’m fine with that. Throughout my life I’ve never needed to know anything about soffits, facia or joists. Why should I? I’ve never said “Catherine, I think I’ll clean the soffits today.” There’s a difference between rafters and trusses, too. You could look it up.

What I learned about information technology was enough for me to make a career out of it. This is no different than making a career out of any skill in demand. I don’t hesitate to contact a plumber to fix a broken pipe because that’s a discipline I’m not trained in or interested in. Plus, there’s that pesky building code. And the money I pay likely remains local.

This country has historically provided endless career opportunities. This is good because we can’t all be Uber drivers. Each of us must develop specialized skills and that might include some time trying out many jobs to develop those skills.

A long time ago, you could graduate from high school and find a local job that you might stay with your entire life. There’s a definite paucity to that occurring anymore. Most jobs now require a level of training not provided on the job such as a comfort level with computer technology.

It can often be a crapshoot finding a career you like that is stable and in demand. So, many of us try a lot of things before age forces a decision. And we’re likely better for it. I certainly didn’t start out in IT. I had several other diverse jobs before taking my first computer course. All of this isn’t new or even surprising. It could be gleaned from a high school social studies textbook.

Then suddenly we’re hit by a pandemic, an aberration likely not covered in that book. It has greatly affected our perspective on all work. Early on, it darkened the employment landscape for innumerable jobs such as in travel, advertising, hospitality and entertainment. Then, in a sudden shift, an excess of jobs became available due to The Great Resignation (or The Big Quit).

Everyone wants job security, one that is recession-proof and not susceptible to business cycles. So, many have decided that this is perhaps the best opportunity they’ll ever get to seek that dream job or one that at least offers more advancement opportunity than their current job could ever offer. With the door to opportunity wide open, many are willing to cross its threshold who wouldn’t have dared to before the pandemic.

Without a doubt, some that go through that doorway will not succeed. But anyone working in a job that provides low pay and few benefits has to at least be considering what options are available. Many employers facing worker shortages have increased pay and benefits. But there are other reasons to look elsewhere including job burnout, not enough time for family and no control over a career path.

Some are chasing the dream of running their own businesses so they can call the shots. The 40-hour workweek for many has become 60 hours and more. Technology has made everyone available 24/7. Remote work has changed a lot of attitudes about the need to commute to an office each day.

Industries critical to our way of life can be hard hit by a pandemic. Look at farming. Farmers are the hardest working people I know and yet many of them often struggle to make ends meet. They are at the mercy of so many things such as weather, markets and now a pandemic. Really, how should a farmer plan for a pandemic? Is there a guide book for them?

And how about the jobs that are on the front lines? Health care providers, cashiers, law enforcement, and many more have been there for us. Even if they were able to dodge COVID, they are burned out now. As we near the end of the worst of the pandemic, the powers that be are fighting over which of them should get combat pay and how much.

How will these people be remembered? Hopefully, future generations will study this pandemic and learn about the bravery demonstrated on the front lines and about those who mapped out new ways of working and living. Because what we are going through now will have a profound effect on their very existence.

That should take up a whole section in their social studies books.

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