August 27, 2010

August 10, 2010

Thanks Newsweek! Attention Students: "Secure Jobs"

12 Secure Jobs for the Next Decade
                                  [Check that link -- it goes to]

Anytime I see an article on jobs and the job market I read it. College is not a magical thing that comes with a guaranteed job placement upon graduation. Smart people slack, waste their time, and come out behind. Thoughtful, motivated people skip college and end up further ahead.
Other people try to learn from all opportunities including their life experiences and formal education.

A few mornings ago I stumbled across the Newsweek article linked above. What immediately got me was that the folks at Newsweek choose to juxtapose the title of the article with a picture of a women in blue scrubs painting the toesnails of large poodle. [As you read this, you have no idea how long I paused to follow up that last sentence. It was a long time.]

Really, Newsweek? Those fine faces are the faces of US job security? How many wealthy people with poodles are there in this country? [Or - in our case- in a county of 34,000 where the median annual income is $24,000?] Okay, maybe I am being too literal.

I checked the list of the twelve jobs still wonder where poodle nail painting came in. Don't get me wrong, animal beautician/groomer is a real job, and someone is likely making money, but it doesn't scream job security. After all, when discretionary income dries up surely the first luxury to go is your dog's nails? Onward I read chastising myself for judging an article I hadn't yet finished reading.

The Twelve Jobs:

Registered Nursing
Biomedical Engineering
Customer Service
Green Engineering & Construction
Cooking and Food Prep
High Tech Manufacturing
Mortician/Funeral Director
Career Counselor

My first reaction [Sarcasm coming]: Well, at least hospitality, customer service, retail, food prep, and construction are known for secure full-time jobs with livable wages and benefits! They are the
farthest thing from industries with few secure high-paying jobs and many, many part-time positions that are most vulnerable to "volatility" of the market (and the desire of owners to keep their labor expenses as low as possible.)

Now do poodle pawdecures count as hospitality? ...I know, I know, I need to get over the picture. But I am indignant... generally, as well as specifically on behalf of my students. Secure? Are they serious?

By the way, I love that the authors call it "Green Engineering and Construction." Let's go there."When it comes to job prospects, green is beautiful." How is that for a vacuous sentence? Yes, President Obama is putting some money into "green jobs." Are they here yet? What do they look like? Who is administrating this program? Are there qualifications? We have some questions here. Otherwise, construction does not soudn like a secure bet these days. Maybe before the housing bubble. Then the Newsweek article quoted a laid-off engineer (odd choice) and suggest that laborers (those are often the low-skilled, low-paided, not-so-secure folks) and bookkeepers will benefit from the push to build and retrofit green and make use of those energy efficiency rebates. ... Sneaky Newsweek. Green is such a cheap word these day, but you chucked it in next to engineering. Engineers make a lot of money, right? They require some college, right? For those of us coming out of school with a hope for a rough career trajectory, something to work toward... that sounds good. And maybe "Green Engineering" kept us readers from focusing on "and Construction." We need our independent contractors, small construction businesses, and folks who work construction, but lets not obscure the fact that a) these are not secure in a volatile labor market during a crappy housing market, and b) for as many companies/bosses/owners as there are there are many more worker/laborers who are especially vulnerable. Some of us are more vulnerable than others. Stop hiding that. And if security in the US means crap wages, three part-time jobs, and no benefits... I'm starting to rethink my understanding of the word "security."  

Next I would like to tackle nursing. The context is that people get sick and people get older ... and as the babyboomers get older we need even more providers. But what I want my students to be keenly aware of [even if they dislike my real world digressions and have no idea how these rants are relevant to their lives at this point] is that nursing is about 10 different things, and the field and profession are changing shape as we speak. The old-school assumption was that medical jobs were nursing and being a doctor. Both would be generally safe and well paying. They come with some gendered baggage, but also come with respect and security too, right? Too bad the industries are in a big hurry to have more employees fast and keep their labor costs low. How is this done? In the mental health world you keep redefining the jobs so people with less training/education and lower salaries can do the bulk of the work. Presto! Jobs for people. And lower labor costs for the company on average. Everyone is happy, right? Is that the same in nursing? What is the difference between CNAs, LPNs, RNs, APRNs, and DNPs? So do me a favor, if you want to go into nursing, great! Please look up the following and ask lots of questions: What are the salaries associated with any given level of nursing? What are the salaries where I live? What's the difference in pay/benefits between different settings? What is the job availability? What are the shifts and scheduling usually life? Which training/certification path should I pursue? What costs will I incur? Education? Tests? Licenses? Certification? Continuing education? Find a nurse friend and ask him/her -- what did you do? If you could do it again, what would you do differently? [At the time I'm writing this the average CNA salary is $28,000 and RN is $59,000. That is in that state of Maine. I imagine if I search for our county's stats the averages would be lower.]

Thanks Boomers for all the jobs in conjunction with the "medical industrial complex" [Yes, Newsweek went there.] People with a qualifying bachelors degree (who want to live somewhere other than here apparently) can earn up to $77,000 per year working in biomedical engineering.

I FOUND THE POODLE PAINTING LADY!! [Yes, I am reading as I go along.] She and her canine friend are the poster children for entrepreneurship! Her name is Letty Morales, and she opened a pet salon somewhere in Florida. Employ yourself! The article mentions some options like doing freelance work or a business at home via the computer. What they don't tell you is the skills you'll need... Major organization skills [Just wait until tax time. And you thought W-2s were fun.], perseverance in spades, and being very business-savvy in addition to skilled at whatever you're doing (like pet beautifying.) The authors also don't mention the fact that you are NEVER off the clock when you work for yourself. Let's just say that there is never a paid vacation... but there is frequently time away that can be calculated as lost money. And all the risk is yours! To be fair, the article does mention that the major challenge of entrepreneurship is that opening businesses have a "famously high failure rate." [FYI- I have a number of family members with small businesses... so the romantic "American Dream" perception of working for yourself has worn off. It is work and a lot of it. You have a lot of control in many ways, but a lot more responsibilities and risk. Mind the trade-offs.]

You know how "green" is become a bit overused... the zeitgeist worn out? I'm feeling that way about "entrepreneurship" these days.

I'm here for my appointment.

Customer Service: Good luck to you. You will learn about humanity and all of its frustrations.

Hospitality: I have to thank every part-time hospitality and retail job for refining my manners... you learn a lot about people and your own tolerance in these jobs. Product of empathy: Tip people well. And don't take your irritation out on the person in front of you. They likely have little to do with issue and are working for a measly wage. No class issues mentioned here! The article is up front about all the fancy hotel/hospitality education that you can get, but explains that the vast amount of jobs in these industries are those low-paying, low-skilled jobs.Once again, not the epitome of security.

Retail: Really Newsweek? No McJobs here. [Yes, I seethe with sarcasm. And I've been trying to tone it down as I revise this.] Retail is a festival of part-time jobs without benefits. You can work in an Apple Store! Or Starbucks! Or Gap! That is where the cool kids work. The rest work in Duncan Donuts and Walmart. [Of course this depends on which side of the classism thing you're on. You can rock your working class roots or hope Starbucks gives your the veneer of social classes that can regularly afford $3.50 coffee drinks.] Again, the majority of retail workers are not working secure jobs or full-time jobs. I'm not even sure how secure middle management positions are in today's big corporate box-store world.

Food Prep: Just see my post on retail. Fern bars. Fast food chains. Hospital/school food services. A zillion restaurant jobs. Not know for security or full time employment. And though there are folks who make a lot of money in this business, they are the minority. The article didn't say chef. They also didn't mention whether we talking about employment in a high-end restaurant in a city or the Chilis restaurant in your local box-store complex. By the way, where is this food coming from?

Is this some sort of weird humor? The twelve jobs end with Career Counseling.

Please don't go into career counseling. First off the sentence is, "No, it's not a joke: career counseling is booming, practitioners say." Practitioners say. Hmmm. That sounds potentially suspicious. Then it says the admissions to clinical mental health programs is on the rise... that is another clue. Clinical mental health is a masters program (minimally) and prepares you to diagnose and treat people with mental illnesses. Sound like "career counseling" to you? I'm not sure what the author(s) were doing here. Don't go get a clinical mental health counseling degree to help people with resumes or do guidance work around career development. If you want to work in rehabilitation (working with people who have have disabilities of some sort) helping people find work, go for it, but go in with your eyes open. And by the way, not all Masters in counseling program even address rehabilitation services. You want to help with resumes? Or work in a local Career Center and help people find employment? Go find someone that does that for a living and ask them what you need to do to get their job. Or one like.

Brattleboro, VT

Over and out for now. :)

August 1, 2010

Listen to Your Books!

Sometimes I think my eyes will fall out of my head if I sit in front of the computer for a minute longer. I'm preparing for fall term and teaching three classes now, one of which is online. So I'm in need of something... maybe an old school book. Something scifi... 

In a previous posting, I’ve had a geek-fest over writing books -- and by that I mean books about writing, not the process of writing itself. These books are a bad habit as I end up reading more than writing. Maybe I am not using them correctly, but I do enjoy them. I've also gone on enthusiastically about DVD extras because I like hearing all the different considerations that went into making the movie and noticing details that I didn’t catch the first time around. I’m still jazzed about these, but the thing which catches my attention at this moment... the thing that distracts me as I type is... audiobooks.

[By the way, I have to fight my inclination to say "books-on-tape." That ain't right.]

Here is how this happened. A friend, who later that following year became my boyfriend, let me borrow his audio copy of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things. Now I like Neil Gaiman’s writing, but I wasn’t a rabid fan [you know who you are] and had never tried to read everything he ever wrote. My friend was very enthusiastic about Fragile Things. I wasn't sure whether he was offering them because he loved the stories or if he was trying to provide me with entertainment for the seven hour drive from rural no-where Maine [Stephen King Land] to southern Vermont [Archer Mayor Land.] Within a half an hour into the drive I was hooked... (Please just assume hooked is as a fishing metaphor. I hate addiction metaphors.) In hindsight, Fragile Things was a great choice by my friend. I initially balked at short stories because I find them frustrating. They're nearly over as soon as they begin. But the short stories fit the rhythm of driving and stopping and driving on my way down coast. Also, Fragile Things is actually read by Neil Gaiman rather than some random radio-voiced guy who reads all women's lines as if helium is the ladies' favorite drink. It really is a treat to listen to the author read their book. Try it, and you'll see.

 These are all the books mentioned in this post.

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

Fast forward the better part of year and my friend-now-boyfriend and I travel down coast regularly to see friends and family. He has a whole big binder of books-on-CD. Together we first listened to Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Company while on coastal Route 1 going south. Though Cornwell wouldn't have been my first pick, I liked it. (I did have to grit my teeth when the reader did the character Teresa’s lines in a high, swooney faux-Spanish accented falsetto. "Oh Reeeechard.") I also learned a lot about Napoleonic military technology. Granted, I never knew that I was missing out or at least never felt a void in my life considering how little I know about Napoleonic military campaigns. I had no idea about siege warfare from any period, so despite the author's detailed descriptions it was often hard to visualize certain scenes. Whatever my boyfriend couldn't explain we looked up together. Presto! From fiction off we go in search of nonfiction.  

All this inspired me try an audio book by one of my favorite authors. I’m a big fan of John Irving’s writing,  and I had been eyeing Last Night in Twisted River for awhile. I was stifling an impulse to buy it because I have a rule about paying full price for the new release in hardback. Luckily, a perk of living on the beautiful, remote coast of Maine is that you don't end up in bookstores very often. Wait, that sounds bad, sure, but my wallet is much safer. And I get to wake up in one of the secret, unappreciated parts of "Vacation Land." So I looked up the audio book of Last Night in Twisted River to find that it was originally sixty bucks! Granted, it was twenty CDs worth of someone reading, but yikes. On a later search I found a used copy for sixteen dollars... and ordered it. So much for stifling impulses. And then I waited for my next trip down coast. 

This is Newfane, VT. This is where I was heading.

My next trip was to Vermont was to see my family. It was just me and my dog on this trip. You need to know that I love my family, but I am often ambivalent about going to visit. I am very attached to that part of New England. I miss those back roads, rivers, and tiny bookstores when I am here. Once on the road, I started to listen to Arthur Morey (who never once went falsetto on me) read Last Night in Twisted River. If you've read a few of John Irving's books, I don't need to explain. If you haven't, I won't be able to do them justice. The stories tend to be full of the messy parts of life and the mundane. The craziest and most improbable things happen and yet it all makes sense. And John Irving weaves together overlapping generations of family and friends. He makes time do the most fantastic things and yet it all works. [People who need their world linear and sequential may take issue.] I'm also a big fan of John Irving because he writes about life in New England, and I knew that most of Last Night in Twisted River takes place here. The book starts in northern New Hampshire in 1954 on the river in a logging camp. The story wanders off to East of Bangor... which is only about two hours away from here. [Cider House Rules & the road closed by Scott Farm in Vermont for filming... and we're back. See if you can follow that digression.]

Half way down coast and hours into the book, I realized I would be passing through Keene, NH while listening to story. I remember that in 2007 I went to an auditorium on Keene State's campus to hear John Irving give a talk at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. That was the first and only time I've heard John Irving, and it was there that he read from beginning of Last Night in Twisted River. The book would be published two years later. I was driving through that town, where I was born, on my way home, listening to the very book that I heard the author read from years earlier. And I'm just the type of person who likes that sort of thing.

Leaving Keene, I went west on Route 9 toward Brattleboro. I had just crested Chesterfield Hill in New Hampshire about to cross the Connecticut River into Brattleboro, Vermont when Arthur Morey read that the father and grandad in the story move to Putney, VT (right next to Newfane.) Each landmark in the story within that region was familiar to me. The Putney paper mill [stinky]... the Co-op. Main Street Brattleboro. The Latchis Theater... Landmark College. Windham College (though frankly I don't remember it.) The grandson in the story even goes to Northfield Mount Hermon school which was home to me for two years of high school. All of this would have amused me, but driving into Brattleboro, excited and dreading going home, wrapped up in some other family's stories...  I was almost in tears. [Emphasis on "almost." I will not admit to this in person. I will deny it entirely.]

Recently my parents took the seven hour drive here to visit us, and I sent them home with my audio copy of Last Night in Twisted River.

This view off our deck behind the house.

More books! After the Last Night in Twisted River, I added a Howard Zinn's People’s History audiobook to our collection. I listened to some of it while running and some of it while puttering around the house. [It is amazing how much time you have when you don't have television.] To bring back my Russian I got Ночной дозор (/Nochnoi Dozor/ or Night Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko via Mp3 download. I listen to it with my Mp3 player and an English version of the book nearby for reference. I’ve never had a very extensive magic/vampires/wizardry vocabulary in Russian. Why would I? Well, I will soon as I plod through the book slowly, rereading, and relistening.

On a more recent trip down coast we listened to Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. [Any of you who are my students you may remember Terry Pratchett from reading his books and/or the time we discussed his perspective on assisted dying and reforming associated laws.] Going Postal was great fun to listen to! I actually think Terry Pratchett in audio format is even more fun than reading it. The reader does all the work of giving the characters voices. We even managed to get my sixteen year old brother into it when we took him to Boston. Trapped in the car he had to listen. Though he only caught the last hour of the book, he took to it. Since he was new to book-on-CDs and not the world's biggest reader himself, we let him choose the next audio book from the big binder. His request was a (blissfully short) Warhammer 40K story Heart of Rage by James Swallow (read by someone...) I figured if it gets him into reading/listening, why not? I can handle driving home from Boston to weird sound effects and Space Marines sneaking into a Tyranid ship.

So now I'm geeking out on audiobooks. And even without writing this for the three people out there who read this blog, I've potentially turned three more people onto audio books. Or maybe not. Audio-books are just story telling through writing passed back to the spoke word. Maybe they don't compete with the printed word. Maybe we can have both. I remember my cousin at age six sitting on the floor of her room, absorbed into the world of the book-on-tape that she was listening to while reciting. I remember wondering if she would end up a stronger or weaker reader because of it. And I have my own memories of (possibly conflated) Mercer Meyer’s Little Critter books and Berenstain Bears… and a version of Pete’s Dragon.  Each were a book paired with a red audio cassette, so that you could read along and look at the pictures. I think I remember a tinkerbellish noise that indicated when you were suppose to turn the page.

So I scorned the audiobook for awhile. Or maybe I just avoided them because I like to hold books and flip pages... and smell paper.  But that reluctance, scorn, or avoidance has passed, and I’m excited about which one we will listen to next. And I wonder, what will Last Night at Twisted River by like when I read it?