Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Robert W. Goldfarb asserts in the 1 February 2014 New York Times article "Reopening an Employment Door to the Young" that employers should be more willing to hire recent college graduates whose degrees may not be the most "practical," more willing to train said graduates in the demands of the corporate world, and less condemnatory of those graduates.  The author, a management consultant, notes that the unemployment rate among those in their early twenties is half again that of the general public, not because they are not trying to find work, but because the entry-level jobs for which they are applying are being held by financially struggling members of older generations.  Goldfarb adds that it is incumbent upon employers (who are ultimately those who make the decisions about who has jobs, rather than the applicants themselves) to work to alleviate the problem, suggesting that their doing so will "have a competitive advantage as the economy recovers and older workers can afford to retire."

Unfortunately, the article is overly optimistic.  The very people whose complaints Goldfarb uses to introduce his article are those who condemn the pursuit of degrees other than the "useful"--usually STEM fields and business--are the ones he would have to persuade to alter their hiring practices, and they currently have no reason to do so.  As Goldfarb himself notes, there are many experienced workers willing to work entry-level jobs, and by the time things recover enough that those workers can move on (either to higher-level jobs or retirement), there will be a plethora of younger applicants who have grown up to the refrain of the only worthwhile degrees being those that are technical and career-focused to succeed them.  Those who are currently out of work (or who are underemployed) will not benefit from the jobs potentially available at that time; they will be too far removed from current training to be employable, rendered stale by being out on the looking-for-work shelf for too long.

I teach in the academic humanities, one of the areas employers frequently deem less than useful (despite remarks by such people as Kyle Weins who refuse to hire those who do not do well with what I and mine are traditionally tasked with teaching and other, somewhat older, comments in the same line).  I have heard thousands of variations on the theme of "You should have gone into something worthwhile," including from the people whom I had thought would support me in all of my decisions and from myself in my darker moments.  I am aware, more than many others (although not more than my colleagues, who operate under a similar onus), that there is a prevailing disregard for those whose training is like mine--and more so for those whose training is most like mine, who have gone through the work of earning multiple degrees in "useless" fields.  We are the off-brand, the generic version, normally only desirable because easier to find and cheaper to procure--but there is a clearance sale on top-line models, and they are fools among the financially centered who pass up such deals.

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