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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.