Then vs Now: Employment

A job for life is a phrase many people have heard, but how many people today have actually felt that they’ve entered a profession they can do until they’re ready to retire?

There are certain jobs where security is more opportune than others; teaching, medicine…they’re jobs which you can do until you retire, but will you always do them in the same school? The same hospital/surgery? Maybe not.

A long time ago the world was very different. You left school young, or didn’t go to school at all, and you went out to work. The jobs were menial: factory workers, miners, ship builders. But they were jobs where people could work their way up, learn as they went and they were guaranteed that job for life.

In the same time period, the rich vs poor ‘issue’ was very different. There was a wide gap as there is today, but there was also a responsibility that the rich took on. It was up to them to employ the poor, to give them money to survive.

There’s a town called Saltaire which had a mill, it had terraced houses and it had shops. Workers in the factory were given homes, they were given places to buy food, yes the money for rent and the money given to the shopkeepers only lined the pockets of the rich back up again. But they were responsible for providing these things in the first place. If it wasn’t for people like Saltaire then we wouldn’t have many of the parks that are dotted around towns and cities today. Without these rich people, I dread to think how many people would have lived lives of beggars, homeless with families, with no welfare state to support them.

It was a basic life where there were very few choices, but sometimes I wonder if that was better.

Today we have so many options before we’ve even reached adulthood: do we want to study food technology or design technology? How about media studies? Music? History? Geography? GCSEs are potentially the ‘biggest’ decision you have to make at fourteen. Then within two years you’re deciding whether to carry on in education, do you go to sixth form college or another type of college? Do you study Sociology or Biology? Hairdressing or Health and Social Care?

And if you don’t want to go to college, do you find on the job training, or perhaps just start work? Then there’s the final option: unemployment.

Skip ahead another year and those in sixth form colleges around the country are trying to decide which university course to take, if they even want to go to university in the first place. Their choices may be limited depending on their A levels, or they may have the world open to them. They may come to realise that actually they want to study one thing, but they’ll never have the right grades to do it, or they didn’t take the right courses at A level.

When my grandad was a boy, if people asked him what he was going to do with his life, I imagine his answer would have been ‘go down t’ pit’.

Ask a young lad today what he wants to do with his life…chances are he’s got no idea. There will be the few who do know (my cousin is studying agriculture) and who have known their whole life, there will be some who have an idea about their path, naturally.

But there will be just as many who have no idea. Why?

I believe it’s because there are too many choices.

I hear someone scoff, how can there be such a thing as too many choice? Surely too many is better than only a few?

I’m not so sure.

Have you ever stood in a shop and looked at the different toothpaste options? Colgate alone have about 20 different types from teeth whitening to extra flouride, the world is your oyster. Even going into a little corner shop to choose some chocolate: do you want Cadburys or Galaxy? Nuts, caramel, fruit and nut, turkish delight, a big bar, a small bar, a packet of buttons or Minstrels or Maltesers? Or maybe a bag of crisps? Ready salted, cheese and onion, Flamin’ Hot Monster Munch? I could go on…

I’ve spent many of my years on this planet thinking of different things I want to do in my life, I’ve jumped between the wild and wonderful extremes to the plain and simple. I found a path and I stuck to it…only to realise that even that had many other options along the way and now I’m not even sure it’s something I should continue on at all.

Everywhere I look there are options and yet, there are none at all.

At 25, I’ve missed the boat on choosing a university course I would love to do, if I could go back and do university again, I’d be in Bristol studying English or Creative Writing (or a mixture of the two). Instead, I’ve stuck in Bolton with a degree that is virtually useless in a world where the voluntary sector is being wrung dry of money and paid positions.

And as for jobs, well, whenever I do a job search I find managerial positions, I find apprenticeships (for those 16-24 years old) and I find opportunities for everyone but myself.

Without turning this into an ‘I have no choices’ rant, let’s refocus.

Had I been born a hundred years earlier I’d have a couple of choices and I’d probably follow my parents and get a job in some factory somewhere. My grandmother worked in a factory, ended up working in the office which was quite a progression I believe. My mum would have followed that path (at least into the factory) and me and my sister would have too. Maybe we wouldn’t be rich, but we’d be happy enough.

Today people are battling depression, boredom, losing focus, all because of unemployment and a lack of ‘opportunities’, something which really should make us all laugh. Lack of opportunities? In this modern world where opportunities are coming out of our ears? Yes, lack of opportunities that suit each individual.

Once upon a time we fitted the opportunities out there and now the opportunities need to fit us or we struggle to find something to do.

That’s not to say that I’d rather have a menial job I care little for, I don’t. I’d want something to feel passionate about, something I enjoy, something to wake up in the morning and think ‘YES, I’m ready for the day’.

Maybe that’s the problem. We’ve gone away from having a job to keep us alive, to buy us food and put a roof over our heads, to a job that makes us happy. I’m not saying that’s bad, on the contrary, it’s brilliant that we can do things we love. If searching that path makes us more miserable? I’m not sure it’s entirely worth it.

But in a world full of options, who can really be sure if the choices they make will be the right choices in five, ten, fifteen years time?

*** After the recent blog posts about how much the world has changed, in the middle of being unable to sleep last night, my brain decided that I wanted to write about employment now and then. So here I bring to you the Then vs Now series. What comes next? Nobody knows, but I’m sure I’ll have fun with it. Unless it keeps me awake in the middle of the night again…