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Short-Lived Employment Not Untypical

Mon., Oct. 28, 1996, midnight

My uncle Ollie called the other day to comment on my recently published contention that today, everybody is a temporary worker.

“In my day,” he recalled, “the only things that became rapidly obsolete were women’s hats, automobiles like the Edsel, and W.C. Field’s membership in Alcoholics Anonymous. Today it’s a different story.”

Q. Dear Nephew: Will you please, please re-emphasize your observation that, these days, the typical job has a much shorter life span than the person who occupies it? Many of my friends and school chums have seen their jobs disappear overnight, and have been confronted with the seemingly impossible task of getting back into the mainstream of meaningful employment. Once a person falls off the work wagon, it seems they are tagged as obsolete unfortunates who will never be able to reach the salary achievements of their salad days.

It reminds me a lot of the good (?) old days when we easily tracked the age and obsolescence of automobiles. “There goes a ‘49 Ford!” “Hey, how about that ‘55 Impala?” “Man, didja see that ‘47 Hudson Hornet?”

It won’t be long before we’re identifying recently canned high school and college graduates by the year their obsolescence commenced - The year of their commencement. “Look at that poor ‘82 Harvard!” “Do you believe the wear on that ‘79 UCLA?” “We couldn’t even place that ‘90 Notre Dame in the swap sheets!!”

Whaddya say about that?

A. As always, Uncle, you’ve had the first and the last word. The knowledge and abilities that most of us accumulated during the years of our formal education have endured far less well than the yellowed lecture notes of the faculty members who regaled us at that time.

The theories, postulates and facts of yesterday are ever more quickly becoming the oddities of tomorrow. Their usefulness in helping us hang on to a worthwhile job is eroding more rapidly than ever before in history. Today, a shift from relevance to residue can occur in a nanosecond. From computer software to careers, what was hot yesterday is not today.

That’s why it is important for young people to very carefully mull their options for education. Too many institutions of higher learning still focus on imparting irrelevant stuff we should remember. Facts, figures and dates are dispersed without adequate concern for how that knowledge will be productively applied. Not enough academic institutions are revising their curricula to emphasize the use of knowledge, to demonstrate the “hows” of the “whats” their students are learning. That’s why picking the right college or university - and properly selecting courses, once enrolled - is the singularly most important undertaking of every young person with aspirations.

For those of us who have reached the exalted status of alumni, the need for continuing education is more obvious than ever. Whether we bounce back to our alma maters, crawl the Internet, or sign on for courses from a trade or professional association, we will, of necessity, have to work unceasingly to keep ourselves current and relevant. In this era of lightning change, sheepskins can get sheared all too rapidly.

Indeed, I’ve often believed that colleges and universities should offer a warranty with the degrees they hand out on commencement day. After all, it works for Ford, Chrysler and GM. Our academic body shops should offer to do whatever it will take to keep one’s BS or BA in cruising condition.

This means the tenured gentry on today’s campuses is going to have to keep learning new tricks and new methods for teaching them. Corporations will have to open their facilities to faculty who want to learn what’s happening at the very points when it’s happening.

But, like any product, the fastest and best change will occur only if it is demanded by the consumer. Today, with the knowledge and abilities of our workforce becoming obsolete as fast as they are, this should be a consumer movement that won’t need Ralph Nader to kick it into gear.

xxxx Paul Willax is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Chairman of the Center for Business Ownership Inc.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Paul Willax The Spokesman-Review



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