America’s Dirty Jobs

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When was the last time you cleaned your house or did your own laundry, complete with folding and ironing? If you live in the burbs, do you mow your own lawn? Do you put out your trash for someone else to pick up? It’s likely someone else changes the oil in your car, unclogs your drains, and cleans your gutters. Turn the heat up – have you ever worked in an oil field? Call 911 – nope, probably served as a police officer, fireman or ambulance driver. Have a relative in a nursing home? Bet you’d never consider working in one.

These and a million other tasks are America’s dirty jobs. From farming to pumping gas to picking up trash, being a chambermaid in a swanky resort, machining gears, hauling luggage and putting it on planes and then taking it off again; these are jobs that make up the backbone of service culture, and allow many of us to enjoy the benefits of a “white collar life”. Most folks have never considered such employment. As an unemployed person recently told me, he ‘doesn’t dig it.’ (Insert huge eye roll and forehead slap here.)

But the jobs need doing! Streets don’t clear themselves, someone has to make the fries to go with your Big Mac, and that ladies room won’t clean itself magically once you walk out the door. For heaven’s sake, pick up the paper towel you dropped. Yet in today’s economy, when a law degree is more likely to get you face time with a debt counselor than a job, there are plenty of dirty jobs. What President Obama might, in fact, call shovel-ready jobs.

But who’s picking up the shovel? As states struggle with how to manage illegal immigrants flocking here seeking jobs (are we obligated to educate, house and care for them?) many of our own kids wouldn’t dream of working in a corn field, cleaning a public restroom, bagging groceries or cleaning someone else’s kitchen (let alone yours.) In America, it seems like no one wants to do dirty jobs anymore. That’s why our parents and many others put themselves in debt: so we could get a higher education and earn $35 K Tweeting for a marketing company (living at home to save rent too). Fabulous return on investment, that.

For HR people, dirty jobs are the third rail. No one wants to talk about them. We turn a blind eye to the fact no one in the grocery store speaks English. We leave the house too early to see who’s driving the garbage truck. We never see the men and women in uniform who protect us, both here and abroad, but we might reflexively sneer at a police cruiser or look away when we see a uniformed soldier striding through an airport, looking a bit lost. We may be the worst offenders in the dirty-job pantheon because we perpetuate the myth that the right degree and internship is the path to glory. But it’s not really true anymore.

This week we’re going to invite controversy and take a contrarian view on #TChat. The topic is dirty jobs in America – who’s doing them, legal vs. illegal workers, what HR and recruiting folks can do to lift the status of these jobs, and what responsibility management has in ensuring a decent working environment and equitable treatment for all. Join us Wednesday night on #TChat The World of Work February 1 from 7-8 pm ET (6-7 CT, 4-5 pm PT, or wherever you are). Join me, Kevin Grossman, Maren Hogan, Sean Charles and Kyle Lagunas for a very special #TChat.
Here are the questions we’ll discuss:[listly id=”lR” theme=”light” layout=”full” numbered=”yes” image=”yes” items=”all”]
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Meghan M. Biro

Meghan M. Biro

Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized Talent Management and HR Tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. As founder and CEO of TalentCulture, she has worked with hundreds of companies, from early-stage ventures to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. Meghan has been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. She is a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. Meghan regularly serves on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands. Meghan has been voted one of the Top 100 Social Media Power Influencers in 2015 by StatSocial and Forbes, Top 50 Most Valuable Social Media Influencers by General Sentiment, Top 100 on Twitter Business, Leadership, and Tech by Huffington Post, and Top 25 HR Trendsetters by HR Examiner.


    1. @BruceSallan1 Hi Bruce. We appreciate you stopping by. Your wife? Well, we might want to hear from her directly then. Great question.

      This is a giant topic right about now. Where are America’s Jobs disappearing to? I hope you will join us this evening so we can chat fact from fiction 😉

  1. As a society value is applied to the work people do through a set of criteria that places one firmly somewhere in a class system. We just stopped calling it that. That class system stuff is not so cool -yet it is still firmly embedded in most cultures.

    Consider the language we use to describe organizational structures-“top-down” being a great example.

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