Something has puzzled me in the realm of American politics every time a politician talks about job creation. Because America is currently allergic to the idea of government specific jobs, politicians like to talk about what initiatives they have supported that create private industry jobs.
Obama in particular has highlighted his support for the development of clean energy, and creating jobs in that sector.
Now, as a sort-of-non-American, I thought “That’s great for engineers who are out of work, but what about people like me?” I mean, I did some Physics in IB, but for all intents and purposes I’m a soft knowledge person. My existing degree is geared towards the service industry, and my future intended degree leans towards education or something similar. So what good does it do if a politician says “Well, there’s a job in building solar panels for you” if I’m out of work?
Well, that comes right back down to the way America works, and thank you to my Comparative Welfare States class for covering this.
There’s a theory written by a few people in a book called “Varieties of Capitalism.” They discuss how it is that companies sometimes offer their own social protection to their workers without any government incentive to do so. This is basically to encourage employee loyalty: the company offers you a pension plan dependent on how many years you work for it, and so it’s in your economic interest to stay for as long as you can.
Taking it further, you can oversimplify and divide different systems in terms of how strong their employment and unemployment benefits are. Employment benefits vary the extent a country values industries which promote industry and company specific skills, and unemployment benefits make it easier or harder to fire people.
The USA provides low unemployment benefits, and low employment benefits. The idea in the US is to only provide the bare minimum of welfare so as to provide a pressing incentive to return to work. It makes it easy to fire people but also easy to hire people. This means that people in general are encouraged to not specify their skills.
Switzerland has an interesting education system. When kids are 16, they have two basic choices: either continue their education and attend formal university, or enter vocational school, which sets them up for a trade skill they can use for the rest of their lives. Higher education creates politicians, lawyers, teachers, and that sort of thing. Vocational schools create cooks, chefs, carpenters, plumbers, and that sort of thing.
Basically, Swiss people are encouraged at the ripe young age of 16 to train a job skill to set them up for life. The idea then is that you have a specific skill you can rely upon. You can change companies, but your job will stay more or less the same. This is good for Switzerland, which has highly specialized industries in watchmaking and high precision machinery.
In America there are very few vocational schools, and they’re not taken terribly seriously. Instead the normal thing to do is for most people to go to university, and most of them will probably get somewhat general degrees. Many of them will not necessarily work in the area that they previously studied in, but their general education will make it easy for them to take a variety of jobs, and not specialize.
Basically, the system operates in America that it’s not technically impossible for me, as a service industry worker, to take a job in the energy sector. So when they talk about creating jobs, they really hope that you, with your fast food work experience, might be able to get work as an environmental engineer or something. I’m oversimplifying for comedy.
But of course, in practice that’s difficult. There aren’t a whole lot of retraining facilities in the US. If I were trying to go from hotel management to engineering, well, it wouldn’t be easy. Not least because I might be required to have a degree in engineering, which we all know is really expensive because university is expensive.
Community colleges exist to provide some level of job retraining. I took a Spanish course in one in Texas and my classmates were mostly working people who were required to attain a certain level of Spanish for whatever job they were getting or aspiring towards. Community colleges offer all kinds of courses, but I think it would still be difficult to go from a service industry background, which is most of the American economy now, to an engineering background. It will still be difficult to get that kind of job.
Anyway, that’s what I picked up, and my further extrapolations. I am happy to hear contributions, feedback, or even corrections.