Anthropologist Ashley Mears decided to learn more about the fashion industry and how it treats models by becoming one. Here’s one thing she learned:
The catch is that there simply isn’t much time to invest; the older a model gets, the more she “exudes failure,” Mears writes. She quotes a 23-year-old model who’d been instructed by her agency to say she was 19: “They said it’s like when you go to the grocery store to buy milk, which milk carton would you want, one that is going to expire tomorrow or one that will expire next week?”
I thought of this after reading this Boston Globe article about high-tech workers (boldface mine):
Brewster Smith specialized in mainframe systems for 35 years in the technology industry, recently converting his employer’s mainframe to servers that use newer programming languages. When Smith completed the project in July, his company laid him off because his skills no longer fit the new system.
“It will take at least two years to train you to be productive,” he recalled his Concord, N.H., employer telling him. “Why do that when we can just hire someone off the street and they’ll be productive immediately because they know the languages.”
Such workers represent a dark side of tech, an industry in which skills and people can quickly become obsolete and some companies, believing high unemployment will give them the pick of ready-to-produce workers, don’t provide training. The ability to learn new skills is rarely at the top of a recruiter’s job orders; many companies demand candidates with skills that perfectly match their requirements.
“They’ll give us literally a laundry list of 15 technologies,’’ said John McBride, vice president of sales at the Needham IT firm Syrinx Consulting. “If [candidates] don’t know one or two pieces, then they’re down.’’
It is a particular problem for older workers, many of whom have worked for the same company and with the same technology for years, and may not have kept up with mobile applications, web development, and cutting-edge programming languages.
People–academics mostly who have never had to compete in the private job market–often argue that job retraining would fix that problem. Erm, not so much:
Some of the technology is so new there are no classes that teach it. Dale Henderson, 64, of Chelmsford, looked to switch to software after devoting his career to hardware, but the courses he found offered basic skills he already knew.
“Most of the experience that companies were looking for was not taught at universities,’’ said Henderson, who has remained flexible throughout his career, first designing circuits and motherboards, then going into sales as a field applications engineer to show prospective buyers how semiconductors worked.
Did I mention something about academics? Yes, I did:
So what’s the answer? Technology-savvy developers and designers often turn to online forums and tutorials to teach themselves the latest technologies. Taking unpaid internships at innovative companies is another way to pick up new techniques, something midcareer professionals often can’t afford to do.
“If you want to be anywhere close to the cutting edge, you can’t expect that you’ll have a [paying] job when you start,” said Stephen Flavin, dean of academic and corporate development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “If you really want to learn it you have to volunteer your time.”
So, let’s see: you’re supposed to work for next-to-nothing, have a brief lucrative period, and then become obsolete. Sounds exactly like the fashion biz.
Seriously, the ‘star’ system works well only when a field (business or academic) is growing. It’s an abysmal model in a stationary field, unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones who keeps working his or her way up. Once you hit a certain age, starting your life all over again, often at a lower income, just isn’t an option.
Not sure what to do about that.