Specialization is a Menace to Society
Everything in the United States provides an illusion of choice. There are dozens of fast food chains here, but they all basically serve the same food: fried garbage and sugary soft drinks. Big chains pick the cheapest products, dump them in the fryer, and then market them to appeal to our primal desire to gorge on sugars and fats. It’s a $200 billion industry in the USA. But this is all well-trodden territory. What of the jobs for the people that the US government at least pretends to care about?
Read any job listing and the first thing you notice is the laundry list of qualifications desired in the candidate. With high unemployment and very high underemployment, it’s an “employer’s market,” which is to say we are supposed to feel lucky if we get an interview. You may look at the job description and say “hey, I could do that job!” And you probably could. But you look below and find out that you have not worked with that specific database program for “2+ years,” and understand that it would be a waste of time to write that cover letter. I try to envision what sort of person could meet the requirements of the laundry list, and that person has the right education and has ascended the career ladder one step at a time. For his previous position he had needed 1+ years of experience with that database program, and for the past year he has been searching for a job that requires 2+ years of experience.
I doubt that the job listings of 50 years ago were so demanding of their applicants. Employers now have the ability to choose from a field of qualified applicants, all of whom would perform the job adequately. Their requests are more and more specific. In the ultimate oxymoron, entry level positions now require previous experience. And yet employers moan that they cannot find the right people. On-the-job-training no longer exists, and if it does it is vanishingly short.
The consequence is that once you are on a certain career path, you are trapped there. God help you if your sector becomes economically untenable. Those who worked in manufacturing became obsolete, the untouchables of the American economy. Big business requires ever-increasing specialization so that the titans of industry can dictate the terms of employment. If they say you need a master’s degree for a job a generation ago that required only a high school education, it becomes the law of the land. People invest in their own education, but only their employers receive the fruits of those investments.