With Dale McCoy
America’s workforce is suffering from a growing disconnect between labor and management, and part of this problem lies in our system of higher education.
When I graduated from high school and started working in 1979, the world was a much different place. The percentage of college graduates in the workforce was significantly lower than it is today, and workplace promotions were based on a fairly equal combination of education, experience, and proven abilities. The majority of people involved in lower and middle management had worked their way up the ladder, and they shared a background very similar to that of the rank and file. Their practical experience provided valuable insight into ground level operations, and the common roots that they shared with labor helped foster an atmosphere of loyalty and respect. The general workplace attitude was.…”You take care of me, and I will take care of you”.
Over the years, the percentage of college graduates in the workplace has increased significantly. Formal education now plays a much greater role in the acquisition of a management position. The influx of higher education into the workplace has produced numerous benefits, but there are a few undesirable side effects. The common roots between labor and management are not nearly as prevalent as they once were. Too many modern supervisors lack practical experience, and too many of them harbor a subtle bias towards the working class.
Most people see the difference between classroom theory and factory floor reality, but we are increasingly controlled by “educated” individuals who have no experience with normal day to day operations. These folks are so preoccupied with systems, programs, and hypothetical models that they seem oblivious to real world constraints. They also exhibit a casual disregard for subordinates and consider most workers dispensable and easily replaced. The labor force reciprocates these sentiments by holding back on information and ideas. Old timers watch silently while new managers repeat mistakes. Craftsmen don’t volunteer skill and creativity , they simply stand back and say “ show me what you want”. The new workplace attitude has deteriorated into…..” No loyalty or respect given, no loyalty or respect returned”. We must do better.
“Too much college and not enough knowledge” is a quote from a wise old friend of mine. It is a succinct description of how labor views modern management. In the interest of changing this view, I offer the following blue collar observations. It is my hope that these thoughts will make it into a few university classrooms. Perhaps they will have some small effect on a few of tomorrow’s leaders.
- Intelligence is not something that a person learns.
- Education tempered with humility and common sense is a powerful asset.
- Education saddled with arrogance and condescension is counterproductive. ( Pretty annoying too )
- Higher education is not limited to a classroom, and experience is a wonderful teacher.
- Are professors required to have real world experience? (I already know the answer)
- Constant self assessment helps insure that one’s authority does not exceed one’s ability.
- Working with your hands is no less noble than working with your mind.
- And finally… The line between education and indoctrination is ill defined.
(Not totally germane, but I like it. And what the heck…it’s my commentary!)
This article is not meant to be a blanket indictment of higher education. The professors that I know are consummate professionals, (Hi Colleen!) and most of the college graduates that I know are thoughtful and intelligent (especially my boss).
I offer two final thoughts:
First, if this commentary made you sit back and think – great – that is what it was meant to do.
Second, if this commentary upset you in any way – be very careful – you may be part of the problem.