March 30, 2016
Talent Talk is a regular column on employment trends written by Glen Esnard, the executive vice president and principal of 20-20 Foresight Executive Search.
Recently I have been exposed to a surprising pattern.
Some of our best and brightest youth are graduating from high school and attending top tier universities without ever experiencing manual jobs. Ever.
How do I know this? As part of our Executive Marketing program, a service for executives in job or career transition, I sometimes take on young college graduates as clients. I recall my children’s college to career transition, and figure I might make it a better experience for others. However, I find more and more have never done the jobs previous generations experienced simply to have spending or gas money.
Is this an issue? Anecdotal research suggests other generations attribute a significant portion of their world view to those youthful work experiences, whether by washing dishes, parking cars, pounding nails, or loading customer’s cars at the local nursery.
At 14, I was working in a neighborhood nursery, usually splitting tin cans and transplanting the plants to larger containers and, yes, loading customer’s cars.
For some unfathomable reason, my 16-year-old boss didn’t much like me. One day he sent me with the manager of the growing field to work with him. The growing field was a one square mile area filled with large plants and trees in wooden boxes. Our job was to water all the plants. The entire workforce was Mexican, except for the manager and me. We worked hard, together.
Near noon, I heard a car horn sound. A caravan of older station wagons was driving toward us, leaving a dust plume behind. When the caravan arrived, wives and children of the workers piled out along with blankets, cans of soda (water came from the hoses that watered the trees), and a cornucopia of Mexican food, tamales, tortillas, carnitas, chicken, rice, beans and, of course, flaming hot salsa. I was invited to eat with them.
I learned more about work, family and the Hispanic culture that day than any other single life experience. It still colors my views today, as we banter about immigration, deportation, families and work ethic.
Was that experience better than a two-week soccer camp, playing summer club water polo or another trip with the family to Hawaii?
What I can tell you is that the experience, along with busing tables in an Italian restaurant alongside 50-year-old waitresses raising their grandchildren, and blending meat for sausages in a packing house with the roar of grinding machines echoing off the concrete and steel walls, exposed me to people, work and values I would never have experienced otherwise.
Later, I got summer internships, and eventually landed a classic white-collar career. But those people, that work, and the values I experienced have never left me. I still draw on them as I assess the world around me, and they all reside in me as I continue in my career.
This likely sounds like prior generation’s walking three miles in the snow to get to school. But I continue to ask, are we shortchanging the young people we expect to join and contribute to our organizations tomorrow?