People split into a variety of categories: male/female, young/old, large/small, gay/straight. They're also divided by occupational preference: Some are career-oriented, while the rest simply want a job. Many see their work as an integral part of their overall lives, reaching well beyond the need to earn a living. Most others work because they have to, not because they want to.
What we do also splits us into groups, but it's not just a matter of skilled vs. unskilled, professional vs. regular worker, high-wage vs. low-wage. Only a modest number engage in work that provides actual benefits to society, and it's a safe bet that the actual total is much lower than claimed. Most of the rest of us do what's required by our "superiors," giving little thought to the overall, cosmic importance of the task that engages us - or, far more likely, the sheer lack of any true value.
In a culture that prizes striving and success, career trajectories and corporate hierarchies, that second group of rather reluctant workers is barely acknowledged, much less praised. Even less appreciated are those who have no work, but simply need money now. Today. This minute. They don't want to deal with the outlandish process of applying at one employer after another, filling out forms (whether online or on paper), sending resumes by the dozen, in the hope of securing an interview or two. Which might possibly lead, eventually, to a permanent position. Or most likely, not.
No, all these troubled folks want is a job: a task to undertake, with a reasonable salary paid as promptly as possible. Permanence is not a goal.
Despite the propaganda in our Protestant Ethic culture, most people are not in love with their occupations. Or at least, not with the work they're doing currently for a living. At the very least, they wouldn't be, if they realized there might be viable alternatives. How many of us would sign on for the long haul if we could instead work whenever, wherever we choose, for as long as we wish, at whatever we preferred and enjoyed?
Sure, that sounds like temp work. But with a difference. What's needed are temp-style jobs that pay adequately, are divorced from career paths, and don't carry a stigma.
As the economic crisis loomed in 2008, then escalated in 2009 and continued into 2010, careerists by the carload suddenly found themselves out of work. Folks who'd been employed for a decade, or two or three - drawing adequate if not impressive salaries - were abuprtly shown the exit door as companies clamored to cut back on costs. Salaries, they quickly observed, were among the easiest items to eradicate.
So, who would do the work of the departed employees? Their office-mates, of course, doubling up on duties.
As an example, the automobile business - troubled for years but essentially denying reality - sunk further yet as GM and Chrysler sought and received bailout money that headed them toward bankruptcy proceedings. Along the way, countless long-time employees were declared redundant, filling the Detroit suburbs with unwanted executives and assembly workers. Publishing also took a bit hit, as advertising-starved newspapers and magazines summarily dismissed big chunks of their editorial staffs. Some went under completely, never to return - undone not only by the worsening economic situation, but also by the growth of free news outlets on the Internet. Hardly an industry or service area was unaffected. Few job categories turned out to be exempt.
As a result, millions of traditional employees found themselves joining a separate, unwanted workforce - people who simply need a job, any job, as quickly as possible. For many, this was the first time in their lives that they were without a regular job, with no prospects in sight, facing growing competition for the tiny number of jobs that remained or opened up.
Plenty of us have been perennial members of that outside-the-mainstream group, never certain when (or if) another job, another assignment, another projet, another fee or paycheck would be forthcoming.
For mose of the formerly-employed, those cherished careers are gone. Like their less-traditional brethren, they face a world where short-term work - short on benefits and attractions, too - is the most that can be expected. And then, only sporadically.
Note: The complete story of Jobs, Not Careers, will be posted soon. The text above is intended as a sample.