What I’m Listening To This Week

I’ve been listening to The Chemical Brothers for a long time. Ever since they were The Dust Brothers, actually. This song was an instant favorite and was released in 1999 on their album, Surrender. On a side note, I would listen to their album Exit Planet Dust while trying to fall asleep. At the tipping point, right between consciousness and slumber, some of their songs just fit that moment.

Minimum Rage

This is a rant. A whole lot of opinion, experience, and some frustration put into text and organized in some sort of, maybe logical, order. You can be offended by my opinion if you want. You can also agree with it if you like. Just remember, you have an opinion too so the fact that I have one, is not a crime. 

It shouldn’t be new news to anyone that minimum wage has been a hot topic lately. So, I think it’s my turn to weigh in on the subject. The issue we see in the news is that fast food workers want the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour. They believe they deserve a “livable” wage. The argument has two sides; those in favor and those who oppose. However, raising the minimum wage really isn’t the true problem or a good solution. Let me explain.

Traditionally, there have been two types of people working in minimum wage positions; students who don’t have the time or experience for full-time work and people who set the bar low and haven’t moved on from a minimum wage position due to lack of skill and motivation. Now, a lot of people have taken offense to comments made in this debate. People who oppose raising the minimum wage have been insulting the intelligence of minimum wage workers. They don’t deserve that, but at the same time, there are many minimum wage workers who are lazy, ignorant, and not too bright. Anyone who has been to a fast food restaurant has witnessed this. This however, does not represent minimum wage workers as a whole. Along with the first two groups of minimum wage workers I mentioned before, there is a third group that has significantly increased in recent years; the over-qualified.

This is where I think the real problem is. Minimum wage jobs exist to get people accustomed to being in the work force. They start off in a job where no previous skills are required and they are spoon-fed everything they need to know. Many minimum wage jobs require little thinking. It shouldn’t be a livable wage. These jobs are intended to show kids responsibility and give them enough money to hang out with their friends. Minimum wage jobs were never meant to be for single parents with multiple kids. They should be in jobs a step up from minimum wage. Line workers. Managers. Even the butcher at your grocery store. Jobs that don’t require education but do require experience. Those jobs start slightly lower than $15/hour and can reach wages significantly higher. Why should a job requiring no skill pay the same as one that requires it?

The real problem isn’t how much minimum wage pays. The true issue is how many people are stuck in minimum wage positions. If you have waited in a drive-thru in the past few years, you should notice that the age of fast food workers is increasing. I was once in the same position as these people. After losing my job, I submitted hundreds of applications. I had to settle for a restaurant job. Sometimes it’s hard to get the job you want, just because you lack a degree. Sometimes it’s because the jobs just don’t exist.

Minimum wage jobs aren’t just flooded with people who had to settle. There are also many senior citizens taking these jobs. Their retirement took such a hit, that they need a source of income. This is why people want the minimum wage increased. There are so many people in these positions that need a livable wage. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour will not solve the problem. We need more jobs for our experienced workers.

Fourteen months after I was laid off from my job, I was called back to work but there was a noticeable change in my industry. I work for a small engineering company and our main area of expertise is in automotive tools. We make the equipment that makes our vehicles. When I went back to work, some of our competition and partner companies did not. Many automotive suppliers were phased out. Most automotive related companies rely on people who don’t have degrees, but have the experience to get the job done. They, by definition, are our middle class and middle class jobs have changed significantly. Many of those jobs are now within the tech sector. Programmers, IT, and so on. Some of these tech companies make physical products and according to them, to bring jobs to the United States, jobs making consumer products designed by tech giants,  they need thousands of qualified people. People who don’t hold degrees, but are smarter than the average high school graduate. According to these companies and our President, we don’t have enough of these people to justify bringing those jobs from China, back to our own country.

Do you see where I am starting to go with this?

Let me give you a little insight into me. Who I am. What I do. What I see.

Currently, I work in automation controls. Ever see an assembly line? I make those machines work. I make them function properly and safely. I don’t have a degree. I stopped going to college when I saw many of my friends struggling (some for years) to get jobs in their degree field. Having student loans and no work is not where I wanted to be. Though I lack fomal education, I have a lifetime of experience designing, building, and fabricating. I have experience with mechanical drafting, technical writing, welding, quality control, robotics, testing, machining, automotive repairs, carpentry, electrical, electronics repair, and so on. I grew up as an engineer’s son. Well, stepson. Even before my mom and stepfather were married, I loved all things mechanical. I wanted to know how everything worked and I wanted to design and build things. Having an engineer for a father was just meant to be. When I was in elementary school, I started working on small engines. In junior high, I was building and rebuilding bicycles and motorcycles. I’ve always tinkered with complex electronics too. I wanted the first generation iPhone so bad, I bought replacement parts online and built one for a fraction of the off-contract price. I still make custom parts for my vehicles and home to this day. I’m by no means some super-genius. I’m just very mechanically and technically inclined. I’ve met many people like me over the years. Some of these people struggle to get noticed at their jobs and get into the positions they were meant for. Some of these people struggle to even at least get in their industry of expertise.

From here, let’s look at the reason why this is, then continue on to make my point about jobs in this country and minimum wage.

Many employers look for a degree first. It’s almost as if, to them, the degree makes the person. Do you know how many incompetent, educated people I have met over the years? Many. Just as many of them as brilliant, uneducated people. I’ve been passed up for promotions, doing work that I actually have done before and am good at, for people with no work experience but they do have a college degree. Guess what the result was? I had to train the people! Two different instances at the same company. Back in the good old days, people were hired based on their willingness to work and willingness to learn. Companies would hire people for their raw talent. Not a piece of paper that said they studied hard and passed their exams(not that college is bad. Education is a good thing). Studying something and actually using the information in the real world are two different things. Did you know that photographers, graphic designers, computer programmers, web designers, and other creative types still get hired based on what they can do? Many of the most talented in these fields are self taught. Some of them even high school dropouts.

Now, I am focusing mostly on engineering-type jobs. The type of jobs our President recently said we don’t have enough qualified people to fill. If that is true, why do companies like Quirky exist? Quirky takes the ideas of average people and turns them into real products. What about Kickstarter? People take their ideas to this website and whoever feels inclined to support that idea, donates money to take it from an idea to a real product or service. If you haven’t noticed, DIY is a really big thing right now. Startup companies are the new way of getting things done.

I think I see where all the intelligent people are. The people who could do these manufacturing jobs (engineering, management, quality, assembly, logistics, etc) are sick of waiting for the jobs, so they create their own. Why do you think tech giants buy so many startups? That’s how they get truly valuable employees. They didn’t just build a startup company. They created a resume, filled out a job application, completed an internship and proved their value all at once. I truly believe that the lack of proper employment for the middle class is propelling some into the world of startups and holding others back. Those of us who hold true, middle-class jobs; are we lucky, complacent, or really just somewhere in between?

With that, I will close this rant. It is all based on my personal experience and my personal experience is based on what I view in the news and what I view around me. I also want to challenge the President and the large companies who could create jobs for us: look at where we are and truly try to see what got us here. Look at the points I made. Do we really have a shortage of qualified people? Would less-than-qualified people rise to the challenge if given the chance? You possess the power to influence real change in America. Give people hope again. Give them a source of self-worth. Give them jobs. Raising the minimum wage isn’t just “raising the minimum wage.” It is lowering the American standard.

 

Update

Its been a long, long time. I usually like to post during my lunch breaks at work. In that time I do all the little things that I really WANT to accomplish without detracting any time or focus away from the things I NEED to get done. Well, I’ve been so busy lately and it seems so incredibly easy to be busy and so very hard to not be busy. So, to explain myself and my lack of attention to this blog, here is what has been going on in the interim.

1. Computers. Lots of computers. I run a little project called The Eastside Vineyard Computer Pantry. The focus of this project is to collect donated computers, refurbish them to great working condition, then give them away. I have decided to turn my office at work into a computer lab, and so, I have been diagnosing and repairing computers on most of my lunch breaks. I have also been repairing computers for family and friends.

2. Tutoring. Yes, I know it is summer. I have a niece who is nearly complete with a summer algebra class and I have been her tutor. I have been diligently creating comprehensive notes for her to use on the final exam.

3. Planning an anniversary trip. 7 years of marriage to my wonderful wife. In previous years we have gone to some great places; Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, Chicago and so on. Every trip has been great. This year we decided to stay in Michigan and go do something a bit more fast-paced. I grew up participating in powersports so this year we are going to Silver Lake Sand Dunes. We are renting a dune buggy and I finally get to show my wife what I used to do on a regular basis. I’m also trying to convince her that taking my 4×4 pickup out on the dunes will be fun too! The trip is all planned and booked now!

4. Laying the groundwork for another project. I do this to myself all the time. I get a great idea and never really get it finished. I have too many great ideas and I get so excited for all of them. So, to combat this, I share my ideas with family and friends and do my best to write every aspect of the idea down. That way, I never lose the idea and can receive encouragement to finish the job. Most of these ideas I’ve had lately are intertwined so I definitely want to finish them!

 

So, for tomorrow…

I think I may switch the radio in my truck. Or…

Changing My Digital Habits

Way back when Windows XP was released, I had this optimism that computers were going to be so much better. They were actually going to do what I wanted them to do, instead of me having to deal with their limitations. I was wrong but progress had been made. I had this nagging frustration with computers. There were all these missing features that should have been there all along. Why can’t I have all of my contacts saved in one, central location that is accessible to any program that needs it? Why are there so many different versions of Office? Why isn’t a good word processor just standard? If my computer doesn’t automatically come with the software to make it useful, why did it cost so much money? Why do software updates render my computer useless? I had tricks and workarounds to nearly every frustration my computer caused, but I wanted it to just simply work the way it should.

Technology was heading in the right direction. It just wasn’t where I wanted it to be. As I switched from Windows to Mac, I found out that Mac OSX was much more in line with what I wanted out of a computing experience. No amount of upgrades or Windows-based software had ever given me the results I desired. Some of the built in software and features I always wanted actually existed! I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought a simpler user experience made sense. With my Mac, I became jaded by the dazzle of high-end hardware and expensive software. My budget doesn’t allow for too much of that. Because I couldn’t afford things like Photoshop, I tried using cheaper alternatives until I broke down and bought the real thing. It’s great. I love it but now the computing world is moving in the direction I really want. Cloud computing. 

As soon as I heard the term, cloud computing, I jumped on the bandwagon. I know there are so many security issues with the cloud, but I don’t care. I don’t need to buy a new Mac when my current model becomes outdated. I have my eye on something else. The Chromebook. Google’s services have got me hooked on the cloud. I use Google Drive to fill out and record inspection reports. Google calendar runs my weekly schedule. With my Google account and a Chrome extension, my computer lets me know when I have an incoming call and I get my text messages without touching my phone. I still love my purchased apps like Pages and Lightroom, but web-based alternatives are getting really good. Ever hear of Canva? Google it. Join it. Use it. I love creating with it and it works on my tablet too. You don’t need to spend big bucks on Photoshop if you don’t absolutely need every feature it offers. 

Most people use their computers just for the internet. I began using computers for graphic design, mechanical design, and programming. I learned computers inside and out and had super specific reasons for using them. Now, people use them for casual things instead of professional. Do you really need a $1,500 laptop to check Facebook? No. Get a Chromebook. Put Linux on an old laptop. I did. I use it just as much as my Mac. Check out the free, web-based tools out there and compute smarter. I use the pro stuff and I absolutely love these new web-based alternatives.