Many academics and writers of popular opinion have long advocated that we can and should choose any fulfilling career we desire, but the reality is that it’s not so simple.
In this age of doomsayers predicting the rise of AI putting half the workforce on the bread line and into soup kitchens, and optimists promoting the chance for all people to fill their days with meaningful endeavour, we have forgotten the one person that all this pertains to: me. Or you for that matter.
I belong to the group of society that is often preached to and rarely consulted. I am a perfectly unremarkable person. One with no discernible talent for the arts and hardly endowed with the intellect to be the next inventor of great technologies. I struggle to see where the great multitude of middle ground folk come into all this.
I am aware of a number of people in my immediate circle, myself included, who, approaching the middle years of life have decided that a career change is on the cards. I have over 10 years’ experience in mining and transport and would like to pursue a career outside of operations. But I have been rebuffed by every hiring manager that I have approached.
The responses range from the polite (“no sorry, you’re not really the person we are looking for”) to the downright condescending (“I’m certain there may be a role driving a forklift that would be more suited to your experience”). Rarely have I ever been advised on where I have failed in my applications for positions and never once has any hiring manager informed me of what the secret to unlocking the “transferable soft skills you have gained through life” actually is.
So where does that leave us? The proletariat with middle levels of education, a young family to feed and no realistic expectations of further study while chained to a 50- to 60-hour working week just to keep food on our tables?
Anecdotally, there are many tales of people rising from humble backgrounds to accomplish great things… but I am yet to meet too many of them. Far too often it is deigned to be above our capacity to aspire to such roles despite being eminently qualified after many years of practical industry experience.
There needs to be meaningful research into how people will transfer out of labour intensive roles and how those workers are to gain the respect of people who have traditionally been stationed above the base-level work force. The idea that a stuffy old white guy who failed at management or a fresh out of university young woman working in HR can determine the direction our future workforce takes must be consigned to the dust bin of history. In order to remain relevant in a fast-paced and ever-changing global market, businesses need to tap the massive resource of percolating brain power located on every factory floor, coal face and office cubicle across the nation.
If we are to change the culture of work in this country then we need to change the culture of how we define intelligence and capability — in ourselves and others.
Christopher Shackley is a truck driver and machinery operator, living and working in Queensland.
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