Tuesday , 23 April 2024

Unmarketable Skills

Being employed without pay. We used to call it indentured servitude, and then slavery, now we call it an internship.

I have had a job since I was too young to have one, I was never overworked, but I was also underpaid. But that is beside the point. In reality, nobody ever feels like they are being paid enough.

I began working one early morning during summer break when I was just barely a teen. A Mexican immigrant woke me before daybreak saying it was time to go to work. I went without question. I hauled hay that summer and every summer after for several years. I was paid 10 cents a bail, I made $100 a day.

At 16, a began washing dishes at a restaurant, several in fact, eventually I waited tables. At 19, I tried to work and go to college. I worked at central mail at the university. I delivered pizza. I mowed lawns. I did whatever I could. And I failed. Literally. I went to the military, in part for discipline, but mostly for the money, the college money, because the pay in the military, well, it isn’t glamorous.

Four years later, I left the navy from the deck of a carrier doing ops in the Middle East.

Coming home was bittersweet. I felt like I didn’t know anything else but the military. But I left with high hopes of landing a good job, getting my own place, becoming a civilian again.

Ultimately I slept on my brothers couch for 3 months. My skills were unmarketable. Four years prior I could get 7 jobs in a week. Now I couldn’t even find a job at a gas station.

Again, I caught a break and began waiting tables again. I had to move in with an old friend. I worked from 5 to midnight. I enrolled at the local community college. My GI Bill didn’t cover all the costs of college. It covered books, tuition and fees. I needed money.

My grades again slipped. I quit. I returned home, 25, living with my mom, once again looking for a job. Luckily I stumbled into the local newspaper office, with a dream I could sweep floors and clean windows, and maybe earn myself a spot as a writer.

I convinced the owner to let me write and be a photographer. My selling point. That I was a veteran, and he was once a reservist. The brotherhood prevailed. If you missed it, that was sarcasm.

All the jobs I had interviewed for before had me typecast as a war monger, a hyper conservative, under qualified, a veteran. My skills couldn’t be applied to any job no matter how hard I sold it.

So how did I end up here, now, with no pay. Because we have corrupted an effective system. Once there were apprentices, they worked for the journeyman, they received some pay, food and lodging, it wasn’t much, but it helped as the novices education was underway. No we have internships, where students pay tuition, or even pay companies, to work for no pay in order to have the ever elusive experience. To escape the vicious cycle of ‘you have no experience, you can’t be hired’ but ‘if nobody hires me, how do I get experience.’ Most people I’ve known have at some point encountered the Catch 22 of finding employment.

So now, we have experience, we were interns, but who wants to hire them, they have to be retrained now. I’m sorry, you can have an entry level position. Meanwhile, we hear the dream stories of the Steve Jobs, the Bill Gates, all the greats that made it without college degrees. But we bought the idea, we got caught in the Ponzi Scheme and now can’t sell our stock. Ironically, our stock is ourselves.

This position isn’t unique to veterans, but veterans feel it uniquely, most of us didn’t join the military to be career military, we joined to have experience, to increase our marketability, to earn money for college, and to have an advantage in the workplace. What we got was baggage we didn’t pack and we’re spending our time and our money to try and fully integrate back into society.

We’ve gone to school, earned degrees, and most of us can’t get minimum wage jobs, if we find jobs at all.

I wonder why any veteran would find themselves entangled in the occupy protests.

You tell me.

About mattbaker

Matthew Baker is a veteran of the United States Navy and was stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan from 2002 to 2006. He holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Oklahoma. Baker has worked as a reporter and photographer for The Purcell Register in Purcell, Ok, and is currently teaching English and Journalism to high school students in Norman, OK.

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  1. Where is the market your trying to find a job in? What was your MOS/AFSC/Rate? Did you attend TAPS when you got out? Do you have any vet friends who have jobs that can get you hired or looked at? Do you have a good network? I got out of 8 years active duty in the Air Force, no degree, allot of experience and 1 Certification. I attended TAPS before I got out, talked to friends who got out and literally started a new job the day after the last day in the Air Force. What did I do? I created a resume and transferred all the military lingo and military job specific skills into a civilianized marketable package. I also selected an area that was hot in my particular job market. I had friends who lived here who let me crash at their place for the first few months. I feel for you man, but you have to have a plan when you get out, and a degree isn’t always the best option (especially if you are going for something unmarketable like English, Arts, History etc, IMO this will only lead one to a life of Ramen Noodles and regrets… The exceptions are few and far between). Know what you were good at, know what you want to do and market your resume specifically for that job you want. Using the line that being a vet can get you any job usually doesn’t. I’ve used this line before and was told they weren’t looking for someone with my skills. Six months later (no joke) I was hired by that company with a different resume marketed for a specific job I knew I’ve done before, was good at doing and had experience in. We in the military have the Special Duties that rarely have anything to do with what our actual job was so creating a resume and jam packing it with stuff that employers don’t need to see is also a huge problem. Looking for Employers who are military friendly is a plus. There are tax benefits for companies who hire military vets, but the first step is getting a straight looking resume and marketing yourself effectively. You can AND WILL find a job if you take these things into consideration. What’s hot now? Cyber-Security, IT, Web Development, Web marketing, graphic design, medical, law, plumbing (not kidding) Sheet Metal/Welding (gets paid more than you know) Mechanic (Certified guys, not Jiffy Lube)Helicopter pilot (in HIGH demand, seriously the new GI bill will cover a Helicopter course and getting a job with that Cert is guaranteed). The majority of those jobs are full proof and will continue to have a market in the future. Journalism is also a good market but it’s competitive and folks hiring like to see what you’ve done in school or on your own to get that type of a job. I support the occupy movement wholeheartedly, but I also know that there are many Vets that don’t have the tools to market themselves in a way that will get them hired. Yes the difference in CEO and Entry level is drastic, and the middle class is being hammered harder than every day while the 1% gets richer. But this is not an excuse for not finding a job while being a veteran. The military has a market for everything, even with the most obscure of MOS’s.

    • Derrick,
      By your response I get the impression you feel like I didn’t exhaust all of my options nor follow proper procedure when exiting the military. I assure you I did. It’s been 5 years hence, so I don’t remember all the acronyms and courses, but I attended every lecture, class, workshop, group I could before being honorably discharged and after.
      I reached the rank of BM2 in the United States Navy in a rate that advanced less than 10 percent at the time. Sure, I could have exited and never returned home, I could have driven tugs and boats in harbors or drive freighters across the ocean, skills poorly suited for a town in the MidWest.
      As for my plan, I planned to go to college, I saved up 60 days of leave as a financial buffer, I had resumes, job leads, I was ready. Yet I was only allowed to take less than half of my leave. I could have come home, worked in the oilfield, taken a welding course, went to a vo-tech, or any number of things, and make poor use of my GI Bill.
      I did enter into the humanities, I never claimed to want to make a killing, just a living.
      It seems that you have a distaste for the humanities, which is fine, but I feel moved to be a teacher. Correct me if I’m wrong, but have teachers not been influential in your life for your entire life?
      I don’t mean to come off hateful, however it seems that you consider that choosing the humanities was a mistake. I don’t want to be a 1 percenter, I just want to be middle class and risk my life or limbs every day to make a living.
      Thank you for your interest and your response. My greatest hope is that my article, your comment and others comments challenge people to think.

  2. I stumbled across this article while doing some research on marketable vs unmarketable skills. Seeing that it’s from 2011, I am not sure you will even see this but, I wanted to say to you Matt, Thank you! My son is currently deployed on the RR and we often talk about what the future holds for him. I don’t think many people understand how truly difficult the transition is from military life to civilian life. As a Navy mom, daughter and spouse, I feel that we (military family/community) need to do a better job of working with those being discharged to transfer the education earned while serving into marketable skills on the civilian side. Whether it be through more employer outreach, follow-up with the recently discharged or even something as simple as resume writing and assisting with job searches. You are definitely not alone in your struggles and I hope you are well.

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