Jeff Haanen

Category

Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborVocationWork

Where Are All the Workers? (Comment, September 1, 2022)

How to Revive a Wilting Workforce

This week, Comment published my essay “Where Are All the Workers? How to Revive a Wilting Workforce.”

In the essay, I address something we’re all feeling, whether at the airport or the local restaurant: the labor shortage. We are facing a historic pinch: the global workforce is aging, birthrates are declining, labor participation rates are decreasing, and many people are not willing to take middle skill jobs – or really any job. In my paper I argue, however, the pandemic has changed our mood around work. From China to the US, we’re now living in an age of anti-ambition, characterized by what the medieval church called acedia, or sloth – which is not just laziness, but a sorrow at having to do good, challenging work.

I make three key points in the paper. First, work as an expression of one’s gifts, interests, and talents, rather than simply extracting maximal wages for minimal effort, is the critical element of a dynamic, growing economy. Second, historic ideas of Christian vocation can be translated into a secular economy to revive a weary workforce. And third, work, and the plight of the world’s workers, is the great social issue of our age.

Here’s how I begin the essay:

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was setting up for a game of musical chairs on my back deck. As the sun shone, I carefully counted black lawn chairs and placed them facing out, in a circle, with one chair less than the number of RSVPs for my daughter’s seventh birthday party. It felt a little cruel to set up a rigged game like this, but I reasoned it was a classic of childhood competition. What could be more American?

Before the pandemic, the labour market felt like a game of musical chairs. Employers created jobs, expected more applications than positions, and when the music stopped, they chose the best employees for the role. Of course, some were left out, but they could be trained to run faster next time and grab a chair, right?

But in the last two years, for both employees and employers, it feels like somebody tipped over the chairs, threw some into the yard, and shut off the music. And half of the kids left early from the birthday party, deciding they didn’t really want to play musical chairs anyway.

Not only has the pandemic has created a labour shortage, it has changed the world of work for all us. We now desperately need to find new ways to infuse life into a weary workforce.

Read the rest of the essay at Comment.

""/
BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

How to Get Smart About Workforce Development

Let’s assume that you, the reader, are one of three people:

  1. Through news, personal experience, or another avenue, you’ve noticed the drastic (and growing) economic disparities between hourly-wage workers and those who own capital (some asset, usually in the form of stock in a business or home equity). You may be unsure what to do to help, but you feel that something ought to change.
  • You’re a business owner or manager and you’re having an awfully hard time hiring people, and you’re seeing that increasing wages or offering one-time bonuses just isn’t doing the trick.
  • You work in the civic sector, and you’ve noticed that getting somebody an entry-level job is really no longer sufficient to get somebody out of poverty because capital is growing faster than wages, and the people you serve just seem to be getting further and further behind.

Ok, maybe you’re none of these three, but you simply care about growing economic inequality and you believe that something must be done. That’s where I was years ago when I discovered the field of workforce development. For me, workforce development sat between my interest in Christian cultural engagement through work and God’s ever-present concern for the vulnerable (James 5:4). It’s a field of wide-ranging interest in educating and training workers, that ranges from employee benefits to workplace learning programs to employee stock ownership programs.

I wrote on the topic in my 2018 Christianity Today article “God of the Second Shift” (and forthcoming book), but I’ve never provided a simple guide to introduce people to this industry. The reality is, before we take action in helping low-income workers, we must commit to first learning. Having put together this ten week “curriculum” for a friend recently, I now share it with you.

Before you begin, you should know that I think a variety of learning formats is the best way to really grow, including reading, listening, meeting with experts in person, and processing what you’ve learned with trusted friends. Also, a disclaimer: I’m a Denverite, so I’ll drop some names on here who I think are particularly knowledgeable about this topic. If you don’t know them yet, I encourage you to offer to buy them lunch. If you’re out of town, reach out on LinkedIn to see if they’ll do a call.

So, grab a friend, put some 30-minute blocks on the calendar for discussion, and commit to getting smarter about the most important social issue of our time: the plight of our world’s workers.

How to Get Smart About Workforce Development in 10 Weeks

Week 1

READ: God of the Second Shift, Christianity Today cover story, by Jeff Haanen. This article is an introduction to workforce development from the perspective of yours truly.

LISTEN: “The Good Jobs Advantage,” by Jeff Haanen. In this 15-minute talk, I give an overview to why I believe a good job can be transformative not only for the employee, but also a competitive advantage for a business.

Week 2

READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #1 by Steven Dawson. Workforce development expert Steven Dawson gives an overview to why we need a “better jobs strategy” to really roll back poverty in the US.

MEET: Dan Kaskubar. Dan is a friend, consultant, and former COO at Activate Workforce Solutions. He’s worked with businesses to serve their frontline workers and seen transformative impact. Well worth picking his brain over coffee or a call.

Week 3

READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #3 by Steven Dawson. In this paper, Dawson makes the case that if you really want to see big change, we’ll need engagement from both business and nonprofits/governments.  

LISTENWhy it Pays to Raise Pay, by Adam Grant. Might it actually be more profitable long-term to raise the pay of your lowest paid workers? Best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant believes so.

Week 4

READ: Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #6 by Steven Dawson. In a tight labor market, now even more than before the pandemic, Dawson argues we need to build alliances between employers and workforce development practitioners.

MEET:Julie Stone. She is the expert on family and worker economic mobility in Denver. Learn from her over lunch or a call, and hear her insights into the critical gap between a starting, hourly wage and an income that could actually support a family.

Week 5

READ: Top Ten Job Quality Resources, by Steven Dawson. This is an incredible overview to the organizations and best resources on workforce development in the US today, both for employers and civic organizations.

LISTEN: Light listening this week! Just listen to these testimonials of people who got a good job, and how it changed their lives. We at DIFW made this video for an event on this years ago.

Week 6

READ: The Good Jobs Strategy” Harvard Business Review, by MIT Professor Zeynep Ton. (And peruse this website.) There’s a way to better your competitors and provide higher paying jobs: the secret is in product selection, operations, and culture…

LISTEN: The Four Qualities of a Just Leader” by David Spickard. What does it mean to be “just” in a position of influence? Look no further. This podcast by former Jobs for Life CEO David Spickard is tops.

Week 7

READ: Building from the Bottom Up.” Here’s an HBS report on how businesses can better uplift and give opportunity to low-income workers. Crunched on time? Skip to page 82 and just take action on these bullet points.

LISTEN: Hardly Working by Brent Orrell at the American Enterprise Institute. This intro podcast is a good place to start on how Brent and his team at AEI think about vocation, career, work and poverty alleviation. Really, anything he writes is worth reading.

Week 8

READ: Employer Resource Networks.” The Employer Resource Network (ERN) is “an innovative model through which local networks of employers collectively provide work support services to their entry-level workforces, with the goal of enhancing productivity and retention.”  Well worth learning about. (The ROI for businesses is really quite astounding.)

LISTEN: Here’s a short video of Karla Nugent, the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group. She’s innovated an apprenticeship program at her business for those coming out of poverty. She offers an incredible example of risk-taking that ultimately just looks like good business.

Week 9

READ: The Company of Second Chances,” Wall Street Journal. An incredible story of a faith-motivated company, Nehemiah Manufacturing, and their work employing those with a criminal past.

MEET: Zoe Schlag. Zoe is doing innovative work on Employee Ownership Trusts and how they can be both a viable exit plan for business owners and a transformative ownership opportunity for workers.

Week 10

READ: KKR to Sell CHI Overhead Doors to Nucor, Generating Windfall for Itself and Employees,” Wall Street Journal. What if when a business sells to a huge private equity firm…the workers, not just management, got a windfall? It’s happening.  

WATCH: Watch one of these case studies on how employee ownership can have transformative impact for both the bottom line and for workers.

***

REFLECT: Now that you’ve take some time to learn about business’s most important asset – its people – write down at least three takeaways that will influence your work. Then share those insights with a friend, family member or co-worker.

Not sure where to start? But interested in taking action on transforming the lives and families of your company’s workers? Reach out to schedule a call.

Photo Credit: CHI’s Hourly Workers

""/
Architecture and DesignArtCraftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyEducationFaith and Work MovementFinanceNonprofitScienceTechnologyVocationWork

Faith and Work Bible Study

Friends, a happy Labor Day to you!

To celebrate your work, I wanted to give you a gift: a free Bible study on Faith and Work.

The study is structured around people’s stories. In a series of articles, I highlighted the way people are living out their faith in the workplace.

Each study has a brief story Bible study participants can read at home. After each article, and before the study, we encourage you to Pause and Reflect on what the story might be telling you about God’s call for your own work.

The Bible study is structured around six sections: Introduce, Discuss, Explore, Apply, Closing Thoughts, and Prayer. It also has additional Resources.

Here are the weekly topics for “His Story, Our Stories: Encountering God Through Our Work”:

(1) “Light for Electricians,” (Creation)

(2) “Investments for the Kingdom” (Calling)

(3) “Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers” (Fall)

(4) “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” (Witness at Work)

(5) “A Well-Designed Journal Can Change Your Life,” (Culture)

(6) “A Growing Charter School Planted in Rocky Soil,” (Organizations/Companies)

Enjoy!

Looking for more material? Visit Scatter.org.

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborPoliticsVocationWork

‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work (Christianity Today)

Blue-collar labor often goes unappreciated and under-rewarded. How can that change?

When I was growing up, the best TV shows all featured blue-collar characters. Cheers, The Simpsons, Love and Marriage, The Wonder Years—each centered on the lives of loveable laborers. Cliff from Cheerswas a postman, Homer Simpson pulled levers in a nuclear power plant, and even the disgruntled Al Bundy sold women’s shoes. One episode of The Wonder Yearsfeatured Kevin learning about his dad’s career path from a loading dock worker to a distribution manager. “You have to make your choices,” Mr. Arnold told his son. “You have to try to be happy with them. I think we’ve done pretty well, don’t you?”

What a difference two decades makes. Since 1992, nearly every Emmy for Outstanding Comedy has gone to shows depicting white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York, or Washington, usually without kids. The exception would be The Office, but its humor is based on the idea that selling paper is an utterly miserable and meaningless job. In the NBC drama This Is Us, the story of a construction worker is told in a flashback to the 1970s and 1980s, as if Hollywood believes manual-labor jobs only existed three decades ago.

Not only has the working class gone underappreciated in modern America, but over the past 50 years, lower-wage workers have seen their lives get progressively harder. Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America sheds light on the plight of the working class, arguing that the distress that millions of workers feel today owes largely to federal policies that were supposed to help them.

Productive Pursuits

In the past generation, the central focus of policymakers has been the growth of the economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (a monetary measure of all goods and services produced in a time period) and rising rates of consumption. And it’s worked. From 1975 to 2015, America’s GDP has tripled, and consumption has ballooned.

The problem is that this period of economic growth has coincided with rising rates of suicide, drug abuse, and social isolation. The nation’s suicide rate climbed 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, deaths from overdoses have risen every year since 2000, and loneliness has now become an “epidemic,” for everyone from older adults to Gen Z.

Though the economy has grown, the standard of living afforded to low-skilled work has declined—and so has our collective appreciation of the work done by millions of lower-wage workers.

The critical issue, says Cass, a policy expert affiliated with the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, is that we’ve prized consumption over production. We’ve built a larger “economic pie” and attempted to redistribute its benefits to those left out rather than build a labor market that allows the majority of workers to support strong families and communities.

Cass’s central idea is that “a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy.” Cass calls his big idea productive pluralism, the idea that “productive pursuits—whether in the market, the community, or the family—give people purpose, enable meaningful and fulfilling lives, and provide the basis for strong families and communities that foster economic success too.”

Against those who dream of a post-work future filled with robots and artificial intelligence—underwritten by a universal basic income to cushion the impact of surging unemployment—Cass affirms both that the “role of the worker in society is fundamental” and that “it is within our power to ensure its vitality.”

Concrete Proposals

In The Once and Future Worker, Cass turns high ideals into concrete proposals to actually heal the fractures splintering the American workforce.

The most compelling is the “wage subsidy.” Rather than luring large corporations to town with big tax breaks (like the Amazon HQ2 hysteria of 2017) or levying payroll taxes on low-income workers and then redistributing the money through entitlements, why not “pay for jobs” directly? What if a worker saw a “Federal Work Bonus” on her next paycheck, adding three extra dollars for every hour she had worked?

Cass also advocates building an educational system better suited to the four-fifths of students who do not complete the high-school-to-college-to-career path. Around two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year college degree. To better ensure that more of them can get good jobs and contribute to their communities, Cass proposes reinvesting in vocational training and shifting toward a more “tracked” form of schooling—similar to systems found in Europe—where students are grouped according to educational ability rather than lumped together in the same classroom.

Yet there’s one area that government policy can’t do much about: our cultural views about the value of lower-wage workers.

“Waiters, truck drivers, retail clerks, plumbers, secretaries, and others all spend their days helping the people around them and fulfilling roles crucial to the community,” writes Cass. “They do hard, unglamorous work for limited pay to support themselves and their families.” Why shouldn’t we admire those who do harder jobs for lower wages on a broad scale? We’re capable of doing this with police officers, teachers, and firefighters. Why shouldn’t the work done by trash collectors, housekeepers, and janitors deserve the same degree of respect?

For that, we need not just policy reform but a different story about work altogether.

To Bow and Bend

It’s not every day that I pick up a book on the finer points of public policy—or review one for a Christian publication—but pausing to consider the markets, systems, and other largely invisible entities that shape our working lives is well worth the effort. It’s like pulling back the curtain on our workplaces and industries—and the perceived worth we bring to our communities.

Cass is the unusual conservative voice willing to cut both ways. He pushes back on both the left’s commitment to government spending and the right’s unwavering faith in economic growth. And he moves even heady policy discussions down to a level I understand: The goal is to create the conditions for people to have good jobs, raise healthy families, and contribute to their communities. As a Christian, there’s clearly much that resonates here.

Yet I also wanted to hear more about the moral, emotional, and spiritual elements that make for both healthy laborers and healthy labor markets. Tim Carney’s Alienated America makes the case—from sociology, political science, and research, not theology—that local churches are the critical element in the renewal of America. If churches account for 50 percent of American civic life, as Robert Putnam famously pointed out in Bowling Alonedo they not also have a central role in reviving the fortunes of American workers, many of whom experience the pangs of meaninglessness and loneliness?

In a time when economic divides mask the growing dignity divide between professionals and the working class, between prestigious high-wage jobs and unspectacular low-wage jobs, the church can and must play a central role in reviving a vision for work.

The Shaker spiritual “Simple Gifts” reminds us of Protestant traditions that deeply value work, even “undignified” work. “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. … When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.” Turning the other cheek, doing hard and dirty work, and being overlooked by the world—these are familiar notions to those of us who worship a carpenter and a washer of feet.

Christians should join in Cass’s call to restore the dignity of work in America, rounding out his policy argument with the rich resources of our own tradition. We should also recommit to studying which of our favorite policies—on both ends of the political spectrum—actually do more harm than good.

Most importantly, since policy is downstream from culture, we need to rediscover the habit of being public about our own story for work. And perhaps, like Mr. Arnold in The Wonder Years, we could start around the dinner table by telling our kids what we actually do all day.

The article first appeared in Christianity Today online.



""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborFaith and Work MovementWork

The Thinker

Back of the beating hammer
   By which the steel is wrought,
Back of the workshop’s clamor
   The seeking may find the thought;
The thought that is ever master
   Of iron and steam and steel,
That rises above the disaster
   And tramples it under heel!

The drudge may fret and tinker,
   Or labor with lusty blows,
But back of him stands the thinker,
   The clear-eyed man who knows;
For into each plow or sabre,
   Each piece and part and whole,
Must go the brains of labor
   Which gives the work a soul!

Back of the motor’s humming,
   Back of the belts that sing,
Back of the hammer’s drumming,
   Back of the cranes that swing,
There is the eye which scans them,
   Watching through stress and strain,
There is the mind which plans them—
  Back of the brawn, the brain!

Might of the roaring boiler,
   Force of the engine’s thrust,
Strength of the sweating toiler,
   Greatly in these we trust.
But back of them stands the schemer,
   The thinker who drives things through;
Back of the job—the dreamer,
   Who’s making the dream come true!


—Berton Braley (1882-1966)

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Be a gardener

Be a gardener,

dig and ditch,

toil and sweat,

and turn the earth upside down

and seek the deepness

and water the plants in time.

Continue this labor

and make sweet floods to run

and noble and abundant fruits

to spring.

Take this food and drink

and carry it to God

as your true worship.

Julian of Norwich (CA.1342-1416)


""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Six Differences Between How Professionals and the Working Class See Their Daily Work


America is working pretty well for the top third of society. It’s the other two-thirds who are struggling.

I came to this conclusion after reading Robert Putnam’s stunning book Our Kids.  After seeing the growing class divide separating American society, I also started to ask: how does the working class see their work?  

As I spend nearly all my time working with and for professionals (those with a four-year college degree), in a recent article I confessed that as I grew older, I realized I didn’t have a single working-class friend. Their world was foreign to me. And so was their work.

Joan C. Williams is a law professor at the University of California, Hastings who studies social class. Her book The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America explains how differently professionals and the working class see their daily work.  Her research is a wise, honest look into working class values, beliefs, and opinions about their families and work.

Here are six differences between how professionals and the working class see their work.

Discernment versus discipline. For professionals, the spiritual and occupational challenge of work is discernment. There are so many good things we could do with our lives, how do we choose? The challenge is to stay inspired for eleven-hour work days without burning out.

But for the working class, endless choice isn’t a luxury they have. Instead, getting and keeping a good job through discipline and moral integrity is the higher priority. Consistently Williams research shows working class families value honesty, having integrity, and being hardworking, while they look down on dishonesty, being irresponsible, and being lazy.

“Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualization; ‘disruption’ means founding a start-up,” writes Williams. “Disruption, in working-class jobs, just gets you fired.”

For the working-class, self-control, discipline, and saying no to temptation is the only way out of the maze.

Achievement versus struggle. Professionals see work as a chance to achieve and prove yourself. Many college educated young adults, says David Brooks in The Road to Character, see work as the arena to maximize financial and psychological benefit while minimizing discomfort.

The working class, however, sees work as a constant struggle for survival. Job insecurity, dropping wages, and balancing child care put constant stress on working class families. Many working class families feel at a constant disadvantage.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, decided to join the working-class by taking jobs as a waitress, nursing home aide, Wal-Mart sales clerk and living in the motels and cheap trailer parks. She found that no job is truly “un-skilled,” that enormous mental and physical effort is needed to survive, and that often one job isn’t enough – two is necessary if you want a roof over your head.

Networks versus “real work.” Many professional jobs involve social skills and managing networks of influence. Yet the working class feel that their work, which often involves technical expertise, is both more down-to-earth than the work of professionals, and more practically valuable.

Many in the working class also feel a deep sense of pride in their work. Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soul Craft, points out the dignity the manual laborer feels after a day’s work. “He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”

One values relational influence, the other tends to value practical usefulness.  

Work-identity versus Communal-identity. In professional communities, work-a-holism and busyness is a sign of success. Missing your kid’s swim meet is honorable, if it’s for a deposition (or a writing assignment.) For professionals, you are what you do. They derive their identity from their work.   

But the working-class dismiss work devotion as narcissism. One technician criticized people who are “so self-assured, so self-intense that they really don’t care about anyone else. It’s me, me, me.” Ambition is seen as trying to get ahead, a way to leave behind the community that cared for you in pursuit of personal success.

Instead, the working-class prizes traditional values and family loyalty. If you’re from professional family, moving to Silicon Valley is a fun opportunity. But if you sell toilets, it’s safer to hang out with people who won’t judge you for your dirty job. “Familiar faces provide a buffer against humiliation,” writes Williams.

Creativity versus dependability. Professionals value entrepreneurial initiative, boundary breaking, and creativity. They signal initiative by “breaking the rules.” But the working-class values dependability and stability, which are useful dispositions if you’re an order-taker rather than an order-maker.

At one electrical contractor in Denver, there are three characteristics of successful apprentices: show up on time, have a good attitude, and be willing to learn. Creativity just might get you electrocuted.

Now What?

Take a look at this list of questions as ask which you more identify with:

Professionals Working Class
How can I stay inspired? How can I keep my job?
How can I make an impact? How do I get through the week?
Who can you connect me to? Who will notice what I’ve made?
“What do you do?” “Where did you grow up?”
How can I challenge the status quo? How do I get me and my family out of the maze?

My guess is that nearly all of you reading this will identify more with the first list than the second. If you’re reading the second list and say, “Yes, that’s me,” leave a comment below.

I’d like to meet you and learn more about your world.

""/
Craftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyFaith and Work MovementVocationWork

“God of the Second Shift: The Missing Majority in the Faith and Work Conversation” (Christianity Today Cover Story)

By Jeff Haanen

The following is the cover story for the October 2018 print issue of Christianity Today. To access the full article for free, click the “friends and family” link below. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, please consider subscribing to Christianity Today to support their work. Here’s an excerpt of the story.

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference. 

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.” 

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world. 

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?” 

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?” 

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem. 

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th century, and vocational education and liberal arts schools parted ways, a new mantra for the college-educated took root: “Do what you love.” The late Steve Jobs, in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, stated, “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Work done out of necessity was devalued, and eventually conversations about Christianity and work applied the word vocation mostly to college kids contemplating work they would most enjoy.

Today, when American evangelical leaders talk about work, the working class—which is two-thirds of the American workforce—is largely absent. What are we missing? 

Daily Meaning or Daily Humiliations?

Years ago, I started Denver Institute after reading Studs Terkel’s 1971 classic Working, an oral history of working-class Americans. Work, Terkel says, “is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” 

Of course! I thought. This fit well with my graduate school angst (and growing boredom with my assignments). I liked the quote so much that I put it in my email signature. 

But somewhere along the way, I forgot that Terkel also believed work was centrally about “violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” 

This didn’t sound like the workplaces I was used to. But the tension between Terkel’s two statements has started to resonate with me. In the past five years, we in Denver have hosted thousands of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and other young professionals at our events. But there’s been a conspicuous absence of home care workers, retail sales clerks, landscapers, janitors, or cooks. 

Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith—who once pulled 10-hour graveyard shifts on an air filter assembly line—observes, “The bias of the [faith and work] conversation toward professional, ‘creative,’ largely white-collar work means that many people who undertake manual or menial labor simply don’t see themselves as having a voice in this conversation.” 

It may be time to do some soul-searching. Have we, by which I mean myself and presumably many of this magazine’s readers, seen the culture-shaping power of work but been blind to the “daily humiliations” of those whose work we depend on each day? Have we been interpreting Scripture through our own professional class bias and failed to ask how working-class Americans think and feel about their work? 

The Great Divide

“Because hard work was such a high value for our family, it was also demoralizing,” says pastor Jim Mullins of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona. “One of the most difficult aspects of growing up was not the lack of money but the shame that would come with not having opportunities. That shame would boil into anger. I think a lot of the drug use and alcohol [use] that we experienced was a sort of numbing of the shame.”

Mullins’s story echoes the stories of millions of working-class Americans who have seen life deteriorate over the past 50 years in nearly every economic and social category. (I use the term “working-class” to mean those without a four-year college degree.)

The growing body of research is astounding…

(Read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.)


""/
BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

The Good Jobs Advantage (Speech Text)

 

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us to think about good jobs, and how business and nonprofit partnerships are renewing the trades. A particular thank you to our speakers and panelists tonight, and special gratitude to Karla Nugent for hosting us at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, a fitting location for our topic today. And thank you for allowing a writer, entrepreneur, and former pastor to address you.

Why are we here today?

First, businesses can’t find enough people to work in the trades. Wages are high. Demand is soaring. But we can’t find enough people. The National Association of Homebuilders reported that in July of 2016 there were 225,000 open jobs in homebuilding, the highest level since 2007. Last August, the Associated General Contractors of America found that 85% of Colorado construction companies were having a hard time filling hourly jobs.

What happened? When did working as a carpenter, welder, or electrician drop off the map as a viable option for America’s youth? In this iconic 1932 photo, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, the story that Americans largely believed was that these were the people who built America. One question we must ask is, How do we recover the dignity of the trades?

Second, nonprofits are finding that society isn’t working for 2/3 of Americans. America has always prized itself as the land of opportunity. But today, for many that vision is fading.

Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife, fellow Princeton professor Anne Case, have found that suicide rates have been on a decades long rise. They coined this “deaths of despair,” and found that the “suicide belt” – a run of states in the West with high suicide rates – runs right through Colorado.

Here’s what the stats show: you’re more than twice as likely to kill yourself if you only have a high school degree rather than a college degree.

And only about a third of Americans have a college degree. In short, life is working out pretty well for the college educated, but has steadily deteriorated for those without college degrees.

Nicholas Eberstadt’s book Men Without Work shows that from 1948 to 2015, the percentage of prime age men in the workforce dropped from 85.8% to 68.2%, a rate lower than it was in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. So, people that could be working are choosing not to and are instead dropping out of the workforce.

These growing class divides are causing anger, especially in rural America. The American dream is intact for 1/3 of Americans; and splintering for 2/3s of Americans.

Our nonprofits are seeing this, and trying to move more people into career track jobs. But this is hard work. Housing issues. Racism. Broken Families. Addiction. Mass incarceration. We see huge challenges in American life, especially for our underserved communities. Jobs are there, but our civic fabric has been crumbling.

Third, what binds together businesses and nonprofits today is we share a common belief that a good job is the surest way to get somebody out of poverty, and keep them out of poverty. It’s also the best way to build a sustainable, profitable business.

I’m going to come back to that idea. And I’m also going to kick us off this afternoon with three, very practical tips you can apply to your business tomorrow. But first, by way of trying to solve these problems, let me speak briefly about the stories we tell ourselves about our work, why I believe they’re broken, and why they’re SO critical to workforce development.

A Story about Business

Let me start off by addressing that top 1/3 of America, those with college degrees. These are the people who are leading businesses today, and probably the majority of people in this room.  

In other contexts, I’ve spoken at length why I believe business is inherently good. It provides the goods and services we need, the jobs we depend on, and the wealth needed to afford those goods and services.

Yet as I see it today, the purpose of business has become either “mere profit or my personal success.” It tends to ask only, How can I personally be successful?

The problem is that it tends to look at people, both customers and employees, as a means to the end. It uses people to serve money, rather than uses money to serve people. This gets us stuck. We see people like interchangeable parts of a machine – and so we build systems that move people in and out. High turnover is built into the cost of doing business. It’s because our story about the purpose of business is distorted.

Yet as a person of Christian faith, I believe the purpose of business is linked to the great commandment: to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Business is a way to love and provide for our neighbors. The view of business broadens its purpose to serving many stakeholders:  including investors, owners, and customers, but also employees and communities. The key question becomes: how can I serve? And what role can my business play in the broader flourishing of this community?

Faith leads us to a story about business that evolves from serving mere money to serving people. And, when people are served, long term, those companies are more profitable.

A Story about Work

Now let’s talk about the rest of America, the 2/3 of Americans without college degrees. The story about work is very different. It’s not about achievement. It goes like this: work is painful. Work is just something I have to do until I make enough money and don’t have to work anymore.  This is not everybody. But for many Americans, work is more about survival than pleasure, and they’d rather not do it.

The stats bear this out: Gallup says nearly 70% of Americans are disengaged from their jobs.

Where does this idea come from? Take the example of Pandora’s Box, from Greek mythology. The story goes like this: Zeus told Pandora not to open the box, and Pandora was so curious, she stole the key and opened it. And out come sickness, crime, envy, hate, and worry – evil. You know what else came out? Work!  Work was a curse. For the Greeks, the highest life was that of philosophers, who thought about ideas all day. Manual labor was for slaves.

But let me contrast that story with the Hebrew origin story. In this story, God creates the physical world in six days, calls it good, and directly says that it was work. In the book of Hebrews, God is once called an Architect and Builder of the heavenly city. And when the invisible God wanted to show himself to the world, he became a tekton. A craftsman. Jesus was a carpenter, and possibly a stone mason.

One story says manual labor is for slaves. The other says manual labor is the work of the Son of God!

Let me share with you an observation from much of Colorado’s workforce development conversation today. We’re still trying to motivate people with just money. It goes like this: you can make more money than your college-educated peers, so get a job in the trades.

This won’t work.

We all want to know that the work itself we’re doing has worth. We all want to know we’re making a contribution to the human story with our lives.

Justin Hales was an electrician’s apprentice here at Weifield. Here’s how he described his work: “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall. “When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

The story we tell about the meaning and value of work is critical to renewing the trades.

Now, let me give you three things you can practically use as business leaders who are looking to solve the labor challenges in Colorado’s construction market today.

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

The labor market is too tight, and everybody is now offering higher paying jobs. This is just enough to get you in the game. But what will distinguish you from your competitors?

Let me use an example not far from home: our friend Karla Nugent, who is hosting us today. Years ago Karla decided to have a community impact with Weifield. They started to give philanthropically to four areas: the less fortunate, women, children, and veterans. They also did staff volunteer days, where her employees would spend time volunteering on the clock. It gave her entire company a sense of ownership, a sense that it’s for employees, that it’s about something bigger than just making money.

They also started working with community nonprofits to fill their own labor shortages, which we’ll hear about later this afternoon.

Businesses need to satisfy investors and customers. But I think employees are the critical element in business success. 

Co-founder of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher put it well and simply: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Happy employees mean happy customers. This creates happy investors, which means business can create more value for our communities.

People will be attracted to work at a company with a strong sense of mission, purpose, and community good.  Nobody wants to believe that their work is only about making you – or even themselves – money. It must go deeper.

Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.

Let me share another story with you. I was speaking with a bright woman who does workforce development in Colorado. She expressed to me what fine work they do to prepare people through pre-apprenticeship programs for careers in the trades. Here’s what she told me: 

“The real problem is not in the training, but in the companies that hire them. I’ve seen far too many construction companies treat new employees like just a pair of hands – hours are terrible, there’s no chance for advancement, workplace culture is toxic, and benefits are scarce. We need companies who not just hire people for dead end jobs, but create good jobs where people can find a hope and a future.”

That is, some jobs are actually bad jobs that can hurt, not help, people’s lives!

Wow, strong words. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a new movement afoot. Zeynep Ton’s books The Good Jobs Strategy, Jim Clifton’s The Coming Jobs War, and some of the best research on workforce development put out but the Pinkerton Foundation – which my bright friend Dan Kaskubar at Activate Workforce Solutions alerted me to – points to the companies who are re-thinking how they design work in order attract loyal, high quality talent. The key elements of a good job are:

  • Wages sufficient to reach the middle class
  • Stable, yet flexible schedules
  • Benefits
  • Healthy workplace culture
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Pride in their work

This is not only a recruiting and placement question: this is a question for the top business minds in America. How do we create profitable models, and win the ever-narrowing war for talent? Job quality matters deeply.  

Some Colorado companies are investing in people only dedicated to supporting their employees

A quick example: This is Adrienne Tafilowski. Her job title is Care Team Culture Director at L&R Pallet, a Pallet company here in NE Denver that employees over 80 refugees from Myanmar. She was brought on by her boss James Ruder originally to support his employees, the majority of whom are Burmese immigrants. She does things like connect employees to services at nonprofits for needs ranging from transportation to financial counseling; when there are family issues she finds support; they even have a staff soccer team.

As a result, L&R Pallet is winning. Their annual retention number dropped from 300%-400% average annual turnover rate – to 30%. Their culture changed from being self-described as “toxic” to “a family.” A good job for frontline employees is intimately connected to the overall health of the business.

  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem. 

An ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. In short, in ecosystems, each part needs the others. 

The problem is, today we tend to just think about our own needs. We have to think outside of our organizations and strengthen the entire workforce development ecosystem if we’re going to build strong businesses that serve the 2/3 of Americans who are suffering.

Businesses create jobs and the wealth we all need to support our families; governments set the rules of the game, and establish a fair playing field; nonprofits represent the voiceless and connect people to opportunities and critical services; churches deal with the spirit, and the renewed heart. We need each other.

Historically, business and government have a tense working relationship. But right now, we need government to work on issues like the cliff effect in order to support employees inside of businesses that are earning too much to receive government support, but not enough to be self-sufficient.

Nonprofits are often seen as junior partners – or ignored. But they are the key advocates for the poor in American today. If we don’t give a voice to the voiceless, all of our workforce development initiatives will come to naught.

And I even believe religion must have a seat at the table. The Princeton economists I cited who have studied “deaths of despair” said they believe the key driver is a “spiritual and moral crisis,” where people lose the will to live. People are moral and spiritual creatures. If we don’t’ look at core beliefs, core wounds, and deep inner healing, our workforce will always feel less than human while at work. We must allow our churches, mosques, and synagogues a place at the table.

Though we don’t have to become faith-based, assuming everybody shares our believes, I believe we can all become faith-friendly. This means we don’t exclude people’s deepest held beliefs but invites them to the table as a core element of a rich, full life.

Again, I’d like to use our host tonight, Weifield Group Contracting, as an illustration. They have lots of jobs to be filled, but in the last 12 years, they’ve grown from a new company to over 300 employees. Here’s what’s interesting: I see Weifield everywhere in our civic ecosystem – at functions that don’t directly benefit Weifield,  like charity fundraisers, Denver Business Journal events, and Denver Institute gatherings. They actually care about the community for its own sake. And you know what happens, people are attracted to Weifield. A top place to work in Denver is also a top notch company.

Weifield Group is a living example of a rule I’ve found to be just as true in the business sector as in our charitable giving: Give and it shall be given to you.

A brief summary:

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.
  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.
  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem.

 

This speech was originally given on April 5, 2018 at the Denver Institute event “Good Jobs: How Businesses and Nonprofits are Partnering Together to Renew the Trades.” 

1 2 3