In days of old, when knights were bold; and minimum wage was not invented. You worked for free, to learn a trade; and joblessness was prevented.
Yeah, I know that isn’t how it goes; but that is sort of how it used to be. People had lots of kids to work the family farm or business, and those that wanted to pursue another life went off and sought out an apprenticeship. Sometimes folks had to pay to learn from a professional, but a lot of times they were able to work at a reduced wage or no wage until they had developed a skill set of their own. At that point they could become an employee, and start to receive a decent wage; or they could open their own business and do more work for a bigger share.
The word ‘apprentice’ has a nice ring to it, but I guess certain fields didn’t like the way it sounds as much as I do. Enter interns, who are in pretty much the same boat as the apprentice without the cool name. These folks worked in professional fields of all kinds for decades, starting with little or no skills and building themselves up into something marketable. Nobody raised any objections to the practice, which wasn’t really new, until recently; hell, intern was not even a commonly used word outside certain circles until one went down on a president.
But that’s completely off topic, so let’s leave that there.
Relationships like these can be very important when a singular legacy needs to be passed down, or a relatively unique skill needs to be taught by one of the few who know it. More than once, I applied for a job I knew I could do well by offering to work free for a week. Every employer I offered that to told me it was not legal for them to do that, but the person considering me always told me they appreciated the offer. I also got the job every time I did that, but I can’t say whether or not that was the determining factor; I can say it didn’t hurt.
People who see how much value they can offer by doing one thing often realize they can possibly offer more if they learn another. Rather than go into debt for schooling they don’t really need, a lot of these people look for ways to learn that don’t require them forking over a wad of cash or their credit rating. These people are apprentices and interns, clever people who realize they can learn a thing best by doing it; and they don’t mind learning for little or no money. It’s better than paying money out, after all.
Of course, there are potential problems in these situations. Where do we want to live, some cartoon world where the sun shines every day and everyone you meet is just like the last person you met? There are potential problems in virtually every situation imaginable, but you can’t throw this baby out with the bathwater. Let the interns and apprentices that want to leave their situation be free to leave it, give the ones being harassed proper recourse; and let the rest keep working and learning.
It just makes sense, probably one of the reasons this practice has been around so long.
This is one of the few systems we really don’t need to meddle with that much. The relationship here is between teacher and student, and those are really the only individuals that should be concerned about who is getting paid what. If anything, we should be encouraging this in other fields. We all know the father of modern medicine was a quack, but this was one of those few things he got right. Doctors in Hippocrates’ age were put through apprenticeships instead of courses, and learned their field in the field instead of in the classroom. We all might be in a better place if the practice had continued as he put it forth in that oath doctors don’t take anymore.
Yet many people are making a fuss about these relationships, demanding that everyone working make at least minimum wage for their efforts. The truth is that most folks don’t have much to offer when they enter these programs, and paying them minimum wage is not practical for a business or business owner. Meanwhile, no one is upset that business owners have no minimum wage; only that they aren’t able to pay it to employees on every occasion.
Also, these folks aren’t upset that demanding minimum wage for every worker slams shut many doors of opportunity that were open before. Young people have enough trouble making it in today’s economy, and plenty of them are disillusioned with the whole setup they are supposed to inherit. Taking away apprenticeships and internships is just telling these people they need to attend schools at a higher cost than any generation before, in an academic setting more removed from reality than ever.
It’s no wonder many young adults don’t see the point of pursuing the American dream; there almost isn’t one, any more. Even if they see the point, how are they supposed to see the path? Previous generations have spent so much time making that path harder than ever to walk, now that public schools create factory workers and we have almost forgotten that rites of passage are important. Pile that onto myths like ‘if I can do it, so can you‘ while brushing aside important arguments like ‘it takes a village’ and ‘the hero always gets lost’, and it’s no wonder young people are disillusioned with this illusory reality we all built together.
I suppose the next target is children, especially children of business owners. Once parents start being forced to pay their offspring minimum wage to do chores around the house or work in the store, we might just manage to ruin the next generation before they have come anywhere near adulthood. I remember being a little shocked when I got my first job, since they paid by the hour instead of by the task. It didn’t take long for me to start wondering why most of my coworkers were making as much or more than me, when many of them did so little actual work. The pointlessness of it all hit me hard back then, but I finally saw a path to working harder and getting paid more for it once I’d been at it awhile.
Equality has been a pretty hot topic with Americans pretty much since the country was formed. Ask nearly anyone, and they’ll tell you they are all for equality. Put the word ‘equality’ by itself on a voting ballot, and everyone that votes will surely mark that box. Equality is a wonderful concept, no matter what pair of eyes you’re looking out from. Ask a dozen people to explain equality, though…and you may have a bit of a problem on your hands. With a dozen different definitions, likely skewed in the direction of each person you asked, you might have a little trouble instituting policies or making laws around the subject.
We’ll talk more about that next week, how equality means something different to each of us and how it affects us in different ways. There’s one thing we can’t really argue about, and it’s the lesson I learned from getting paid by the hour for so many years. The truth is, no matter how we might decide to look at the subject…
Come on back next week, and we’ll dig into that.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,