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Questions for business owners, politicians and all stakeholders in our new economy

By Stephanie Dudgeon,

At the beginning of my unemployment, I found my thoughts focused on blaming myself — for my choice of major, job, etc.  Eventually, though, I learned to turn that annoying chatter volume way down, focus on my future, and leave the past behind.  It doesn’t particularly matter what I majored in or what jobs I have had.  That’s because I was educated for an economy that no longer exists. 

I haven’t fully studied President Obama’s proposals for addressing the unemployment situation, but one topic has caught my attention.  The issue of training or retraining workers, depending on the worker’s status, is critical to overcoming the unemployment crisis.

Compared to previous recessions in my lifetime, the Great Recession is a different animal.  Something much more profound is occurring.  We are witnessing the collapse of the postwar economy and postwar culture.  And the economy that has been emerging as the replacement will require us to figure out how to keep our population educated and trained for the jobs that are going to be created.

I graduated from a private liberal arts college with a degree in history in 1985.   I wouldn’t trade my degree for anything.  But it has been painfully obvious along the way that while it may make me very attractive to graduate school admissions officers, most of corporate America has a lukewarm response to liberal arts college graduates.  Companies increasingly appear to be far more interested in hiring people with what I call “careerist” majors (marketing, communications, etc).

Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times column this summer that if millions of Americans can’t find jobs, it’s because they aren’t employable.  Assuming this is true, why aren’t they employable?  And what can they do to make themselves employable?

On one level, I agree that millions of Americans require additional education and training in order to be more attractive to potential employers.  But I also have a cynical response to U.S. employers.  They seem to want to hire only people under the age of 35.  This makes sense when one considers how such a demographic is trained in the most recent technology and trends.  But is it also due to the fact that such people earn far less money than older, experienced employees?  And that they also cost less than older employees when it comes to healthcare coverage?  And does it result from the fact that most of America’s companies appear to have no training programs and expect the U.S. educational system to do all necessary training?

If America’s companies are only drawn to employees under the age of 35, America’s business culture is engaging in self-destructive, short-sided behavior.  I think that a dynamic organization is one that consists of all generations.

As just one example: If Baby Boomers have the majority of the income, how in the world does a company expect one of its 26-year-old marketing employees to tap into the mind and wallet of a 55-year-old? 

If this country is going to properly address the issue of unemployment and how we are going to remain competitive, we must answer the following questions:  What constitutes being a well-educated, skilled, employable American in the 21st century?  Who should pay for the education and training necessary to achieve this definition?  And what are the implications for our educational system?

Stephanie Dudgeon, a 48-year-old former project manager from Columbus, Ohio, has been unemployed for five months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

Read more updates from Stephanie Dudgeon here.

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