Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic, and Zero About Jobs
Firefighter. Lion tamer. Nurse. Teacher. Cop.
Those are the careers most young people are familiar with. In a world where you can spend your life designing beer bottles, inspecting sewers, prepping cadavers, or programming robot dogs, you’d think we might spend a little more time introducing young people to the wide, wide world of work, instead of just leaving it all to Mike Rowe and his Dirty Jobs.
What we need is something beyond career day but a little less time-intensive than semesterlong internships. I propose Job Tourism, an idea I’m basically stealing from author David Epstein—and the U.S. Army.
In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Macmillan), Epstein talks about the advantages reaped by folks who switch careers, or at least seriously pursue other interests beyond the field they’re working in. In a chapter on job dissatisfaction, he homes in on the U.S. Army, which in the 1980s started hemorrhaging its best and brightest, including its West Point grads. Once these smart and driven folks had served the minimum time required, many of them were jumping ship (if I may mix my military metaphors). In desperation, the Army decided to try retention bonuses. In 2007–2008 it spent over half a billion dollars on these, offering lump sums to active duty officers commissioned between 1999 and 2005 if they’d stick around for three more years.
It didn’t work. The officers who were going to leave left anyway. The ones who were going to sta
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