He says his name is George but declines to give his last name. He’s 29 years old, holds a master’s degree in economics, and has been unemployed for a year and a half, not counting the five months he worked as a street cleaner.
“It’s more difficult for the highly qualified,” he says. “The market thinks we will cost too much.” He’s applying for a position as a secretary, a job that requires a high school degree. For a couple of minutes, he and Stratigaki discuss whether his education will be an asset or a liability, and then their names are called.”
People aren’t owed jobs because of (possibly bogus) qualifications or credentials; they get jobs because they can do something valuable for someone else. Degrees don’t necessarily show that, and I’ve met plenty of doofuses in advanced degree programs or with advanced degrees, who I wouldn’t hire, and plenty of people without degrees, who I would hire.
That point doesn’t say much about the macro situation in Greece, which is dire and a human tragedy. Nonetheless, the idea that being “highly qualified” automatically makes someone worthy of a job is bizarre to me yet also seems endemic among many of the people I run into, who view educational credentials as accurate proxies for valued skills. Yet I look at many of the people I’ve met in various forms of higher education (law school, grad school in English lit) and am struck by how few of them I would hire to write proposals.
Among people in the English grad department, I can think of no one I would want to hire—students or professors. Perhaps I am judging them unfairly, but the stories about marginally employed “professors” on food stamps makes sense to me, because what else are many of these people going to do? Many don’t even seem to realize that, given their sometimes tremendous writing talents, getting a blog is the way to spread ideas and make connections. Many seem to have a limited sense of possibility. On the other hand, I’ve met two different people on the Internet who, if I suddenly needed a writer, I’d seek out, since both are already competent writers who can get things done.
By contrast, generic grad students frequently spend a decade in grad school and have literally nothing to show for their effort other than their degrees; a few have peer-reviewed articles that are only 25 pages long and intellectually vacuous at that. Many perpetual students don’t seem to care about whether they provide value for someone else or somehow just deserve jobs for existing.
To my mind, the question of “What value do I provide for other people?” is paramount, so much so that I keep citing it again and and again in this post, even if “What degrees do I have or can I get?” is easier.