The Promise of Employment

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It is a formula that we decided decades ago makes sense and should therefore work. It is a recipe that for many people in the past decades, has worked to provide a decent life and what people often refer to as security as they look to the future. – You go to school, you do your training, and when you’re finished there will be a job for you somewhere, and it will be a job you want.

Nowadays this formula is less solid than it has ever been. There aren’t many jobs to go around, yet many are still doing the training and the degrees under the assumption that the old deal will still be honored.  As they come out and find the world is not quite what they thought, there is anger, frustration, and sadness across the board. Then come the protests and the campaigns, some speeches from politicians and average citizens, a few policies to try and re-animate that old connection between job training and job. Underneath all the activities and discussions there is a basic principle that remains, in this world as we have built it, you should be able to get an education which also prepares you for a career that once you’re met some set requirements, you can pursue.  After all, how else is it supposed to work?

The hardline voices in the wilderness will say — there are no guarantees in life. A statement that is easy to confirm.

But getting back to that old deal that we’re still trying to revive, here in Portugal one can observe the living breathing collapse and aftermath of that socio-educational correlation.  People young and old with degrees in social work, primary and secondary education, and a long list of other studies, find themselves either in the never-ending spiral of unemployment and job training, or the very common – working retail in a shopping mall. You might have the skills and training to help people in need or teach, but nowadays where you’re needed is selling iPods at the nearest strip mall.  Are these jobs terrible? No, not for everyone. But what happens when you’ve got a country full of social workers and educators selling jeans and flipping burgers? When people’s lives get placed on hold as they wait for that possible real job they trained and prepared for. When they decide not to have any children and to live at home forever to save something from their minuscule pay check?

The discussion is not new. It even finds its way into political discussions regularly these days. But the underlying principle should also be subject to scrutiny. Why believe in the formula anymore? There is not just one way to learn. There is not just one way to make a living. Hoping and working to repair a once functional system is perhaps a noble goal that bears the occasional fruit. But what about teaching each other to break out of the pattern. That if they continue to just wait for something to happen, instead of making something happen, they could be waiting for the rest of their unfulfilled lives.

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3 Responses

  1. Liam Burke says:

    Portugal has specific problems that this article doesn’t touch on: far too many people studying at university level; the Portuguese social status that goes with a degree (being called a “doutor”, etc.); the uncontrolled “education industry” in Portugal (with private universities competing to offer places even though they know the jobs just aren’t there – for example, Portugal produces 1,000 architects each year); the underdeveloped vocational training system; the lack of specialised industry (where specialised workers can earn much more than degree-holders, as they do in germany); etc. etc.

  2. What viz said. For once he got something right.

  3. Katrina Bee says:

    well said, luv.