Teach Your Kids About Good Work, Not Good Jobs

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From the day our kids are born, we – subtly or not so subtly – communicate messages about “good jobs.” How many of us can honestly say we’ve dressed our kids in a “future pipefitter” onesie? When we talk to our kids about life after high school, how many of us must admit that the first thing we say is, “When you go to college” – as if there aren’t thousands of jobs, some of which our kids might love, that don’t require a college education.

And of course, if there are “good jobs,” that means there are bad jobs. When I was writing this, I was searching for quotes about jobs and work, and I found this: “There are two types of jobs in this world, those you shower before, and those you shower after. The after jobs remind you to work hard for the before ones.”

But why should that be true? If my son loves to get elbow-deep in the dirt of the garden, why should he search for a related career that keeps his fingernails clean? If he learns best by doing, why should he sit in a classroom instead of seeking an on-the-job apprenticeship in a trade? If he loves the outdoors, why should he choose a career that keeps him gazing longingly out a window – even if it is one in a corner office? And isn’t it his decision whether a job pays too little money for him – and how much money is enough?

Mike Rowe, the host of one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Dirty Jobs created the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to promote the skilled trades and argues that, in our push for kids to seek out “good jobs,” we have created a world in which young adults are weighed down by student debt and unemployment while there are literally millions of “bad jobs” that don’t have takers. And he tells the world that, if you are willing to try something new, something hard – and yes, something dirty – there is work out there for you. Dirty work, hard work, but satisfying work.

The foundation offers scholarships for those who want to retrain in the skilled trades. Among the things you need to do to get a scholarship is sign the S.W.E.A.T. pledge – Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo. My favourite line from the pledge? “I believe there is no such thing as a ‘bad job.’ I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.” My second favourite? “I do not ‘follow my passion.’ I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.”

If your child is dreaming of being a Fortune 500 CEO with a multi-million-dollar dream house and an expensive car, there will be literally thousands of people doing jobs that are dirty, demanding, and physical that support that dream. To get that dream house, you need a skilled tile-layer to make sure that $80 per square foot marble tile doesn’t crack three months after the house is built, and a capable carpenter to make sure that the expansive deck with a view of the lake doesn’t fall down. That luxury car has to be serviced by a qualified mechanic, who not only has the skill to tune engine components to exactly your liking, but is also willing to get up for a 7:30 am dropoff time – to do a job that requires a jumpsuit that will get spattered with grease and oil.

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