Nobody Wants Those Crummy Trump Jobs

I’m unabashedly libertarian in my politics. I don’t think government can solve anything that you can’t fix yourself.

There are exceptions, of course. You can’t fight systemic problems like racism and sexism that are baked into our operating system. Like a computer virus, those problems require intervention beyond our individual capabilities.

But, for the most part, you’re accountable for bringing your best to work — and life — on a daily basis.

So when Trump promises to bring back good paying factory jobs to America, my first response is rooted in skepticism. The government can’t do that. Nobody can do that. That’s not how business works.

My second response is even more vitriolic. Nobody wants those crummy Trump jobs. Those jobs suck. Have you ever worked in a factory? Do you have a family member who’s lost a finger or a hand in a mill accident? Don’t we have higher hopes for our talented citizens?

Most Americans would trade a kidney for a second chance to participate in a knowledge-based economy. The American dream is to send those toxic and dangerous factory jobs to China and Mexico and replace that work with something more meaningful. Something with a purpose.

The next President should focus on that challenge.

When I hear Trump promise to bring back jobs from China, I fly into a fit of rage. And I think of the book The Factory Man. Have you read it? The author describes the segregated and sexist ways that furniture companies operated up until the 1980s. African American men had the most dangerous jobs. Women didn’t have access to leadership roles.

Who wants that? Nobody! Don’t bring that back to America.

Eventually, the furniture companies get greedy and decide to start building factories in China to maximize profits and reduce labor costs. They seem stupidly surprised when their designs are stolen. Morons. And you probably know the rest of the story, right? Furniture is produced cheaply, and China wipes out the industry here in America.

I’ve been through these towns in North Carolina. There’s not much left besides Bojangles and maybe a Walmart. Maybe.

But the answer isn’t to bring back those old jobs. The answer is in the future: education, training, and knowledge-based work that is compensated by your effort and intellectual contribution. In fact, I believe that re-importing those jobs back to America would be a wholesale failure of democracy and capitalism.

So you can keep your crummy Trump jobs that endanger workers and make 1% of the population wealthy. I’m thinking about the future and work-related programs where you’re rewarded and incented to carry the load and perform your best.

Some of that is expensive — equal access to education, science-based approach to solving problems, laddering up the disadvantaged so they can compete in a performance-based economy, universal basic income to offset inequality in America — but the results will pay dividends for the American workforce and the economy.

Imagine how great the world could be if HR focused on culture, leadership, and optimizing performance. It’s not about making Oreo Cookies in the Midwest and mining coal in Appalachia. It’s about investing in the intellectual potential of our citizens to reduce spending in the long haul.

So let’s keep those crummy Trump jobs out of the economy. Let’s do it for our workers and for the future of human resources.

FOT Background Check

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.

17 Comments

  1. Dan Johnson says:

    Hi Laurie,
    I should mention first that this is not a defense of Trump or any of his policies, and my reaction is not about anything related to politics.

    I am however, motivated to respond by the seeming elitist and condescending attitude you have toward the blue collar economy.

    Manufacturing jobs in the United States have been the middle class for the last 100 years. And to pretend like our trade policies have no impact on where work gets moved to is ignoring the historical realities of what NAFTA and other like trade policies have done to our economy good and bad. I am a free trader, but to ignore the negative impacts, however short to medium term, is at best naïve.

    A strong manufacturing economy also is essential for purposes of National Defense. Without the means of production, we would have never been able to win WWII. It is essential that we maintain some institutional know-how to manufacture and process goods in order to not be completely at the mercy of other countries that can leverage their manufacturing base to project power. Not to mention the fact that a diversified economy protects the United States from risk associated with an unhealthy reliance on imports.

    There is an implication in your premise that when you talk about factory jobs that can only mean a minimum wage piece assembly job or operating some extremely hazardous “widow maker” type machine and that is just not an accurate view of what a modern factory actually is. Modern manufacturing facilities have automation and extremely precise machines. Even sawmills now, have 3D imaging multi-axis sawing capabilities that require an army of technicians beyond just an operator. In order to make a modern manufacturing operation work, you need in house engineers, product development, R&D, logistics, procurement, maintenance, and a myriad other highly skilled support functions that all have to work in concert to bring the product into being. Not to mention a local supply chain that sells all sorts of equipment and consumables to the operation. Whole local economies can be based on one medium sized manufacturing operation.

    It truly saddens me to see what you took away from a great book like Factory Man. The premise of the book was how a determined business leader, through exposing an unfair playing field and a fanatical focus on innovation, could make manufacturing in America competitive. Of course, it exposed and shook loose the baggage of not only manufacturing but the pre-Civil Rights South in the process, but I don’t think it is very valuable to mix those two issues together in the discussion of whether manufacturing jobs are valuable or not. The punch line for many of the companies described was that China started to cut them out of the process and sent products directly to market driving them nearly all out of business.

    The idea that people who work in manufacturing jobs do not use their brains is just plain wrong. Successful Manufacturing organizations are committed to engaging these workforces to be more aware and contribute to shared goals by coming up with improvement ideas. They have to be highly disciplined and it is very competitive which takes out all the slack in the organization. However the lessons learned and the technology created through that struggle make everything else in the economy better.

    Didn’t mean to make this so long, but happened to hit in my area. In my 8th year of being a fan of yours!

    • LFR says:

      I wanted to quickly say that I did love Factory Man for a lot of reasons. Glad you did, too. What I loved is that I was forced to feel empathy for SOBs and family businesses who never thought of anybody but themselves until it was too late. And I like dogged determination, but it’s not like anybody in that book is Ralph Nader.

  2. LFR says:

    Love it.

    I come from a family of factory workers. Grandfather was a steelworker. In-laws make trophy bases. My 29 y/o brother works in one of those high tech factories we hear a lot about. He’s had special training. Works on a self-governed team.

    Every single person I know who works in a factory is working and saving so the next generation of kids doesn’t have to work in a factory.

    I’m not elitist. I’m the first person in my family to have a college degree. I’m a witness and, thankfully, a dream realized.

    Thanks for being a fan. ❤️

    • Blue Collar Man says:

      We should ask the scores of unemployed recent college grads, who are living Laurie’s dream, about trying a well paying, union-ized factory job. Unfortunately, they can’t land a steady job at McDonalds because their 50 yr old, recently downsized Uncle Larry from IT needed to keep the health benefits train moving for his family of four. He has a better resume.

      We need more jobs to get our economy revving again. Or will those knowledge based jobs magically trickle down? Good luck! You are suspect Ruettimann. 🙂

      • LFR says:

        Ha! I am suspect.

        You know, there’s this myth that college saves everybody. There’s an equally weird myth that America needs to go back to its manufacturing base. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. A wholly diversified and differentiated economy sounds okay to me.

  3. Amy says:

    I cant convey how much your post made me want to stand up and shout “YES!!” One thousand times yes. Scale that yes like a Series C start-up with cash to burn.
    In all honesty, you are now my HR hero and you had me at…your first sentence.
    Keep rocking the HR world, your posts mean the world to anonymous internet strangers.

  4. parker davis says:

    You are definitely an elitist in disguise, and the sadness is you fail to recognize it. You need to get a real job again so you can understand how the world works. Not everyone should, can, and needs to go to college. Someone has to do the blue collar jobs. You seem to have not realized that large numbers of blue collar jobs are high paying, secure, have great benefits, and have pensions. There is a pride and a sense of accomplishment in building something. A sense of accomplishment you don’t get sitting behind a desk and shuffling papers (or computer screens and keyboards). We will continue to need carpenters, plumbers, and auto techs, etc. We will also need to build automobiles, computers, furniture, heating equipment, electronic relays, etc.
    Not everyone is capable, or wants to, or finds rewards in those “knowledge based” jobs, whatever you think they many be. And you seem to forget about those public service jobs that keep us alive every day: firefighters, law enforcement, cab drivers, engineers, waste water treatment, electrical transmission, etc etc
    Believe or not, there are towns in North Carolina which have more than a Bojangles and a Walmart. Some are major metropolitan areas, supporting by those jobs you think are demeaning.
    You think you are an avant-garde, out of the box thinker. I think there is a shallowness which fails to see even a slice of the big picture.

    • LFR says:

      Dude, swap out college and add “trade school” and I’m all for it.

      But I’m not down with for-profit trade schools that turn out certifications in low-wage industries. Factories are sometimes factories in disguise if you know what I mean. (#sethgodin)

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. John McCoy says:

    You are absolutely right about government and jobs. You are absolutely wrong about modern manufacturing. There are a few drudge jobs left in the U.S., but the percentage of technicians and scientists in manufacturing is large and growing. Manufacturing today doesn’t need grunt workers. It needs scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians. The need will only grow if uninformed people keep reinforcing the stereotype.

    • LFR says:

      Whoa, modern manufacturing is like clean coal. Sounds good in theory. Exists in pockets.

      I’ve worked in four different kinds of factories: candy factory, shampoo factory, food additives factory, and a pharmaceutical plant. High tech? Well … compared to 1929, yes. And even compared to 1999, there’s a ton of tech in manufacturing.

      I know that it’s high-tech to cut steel and turn it into equipment, for example. I know this on a personal level. It requires extensive training and can’t be done by complete morons or yokels. (Well, that is debatable) But then what? When those factories take advantage of further automation improvements, what do we do with those workers?

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. Suzanne Enright says:

    I appreciate how well this is articulated this is, Laurie. Thanks you. I wish others could avoid calling each other names so quickly and labeling people and try to discuss the ideas people are offering in a neutral way. We have to start trying to find our common ground. I believe not everyone wants to or should have to go to college to get a family wage-paying job, though I did, not until we reform our educational system so it more suitably prepares people for the work that needs to be done in our current world, or maybe never. College is not the answer for everyone. And I believe we need to create new blue collar and manufacturing jobs to repair our aging infrastructure and to prepare for a world of more limited resources, to create new innovations and new products that Americans will often create first, before they are then outsourced to other countries who will then copy them and drive down their costs. Let them. They deserve a good quality of life too. Let us move on to the next new innovations. We can do this. And I suspect Laurie will agree with me. Thank you for this post. I shared to my LinkedIn community and asked them to share it.

  7. Paul Irvin says:

    Your views are correct. The good middle class blue collar jobs are gone. Having worked as a Tool and Die Maker for 20 years, being laid off 5 times and having your wages cut, I totally understand the exodus from the skilled trades. There are very few unions or pensions. With health care hinged to your wages, any increases in pay are quickly swallowed up by health care premiums. The employers pass these premiums on to the workers. Workers have little choice because there are few alternative jobs.The average pay for a Tool and Die Maker in the US. is about 22-23 dollars an hour. In the mid 90s I was making 24 dollars an hour. The middle class workers have been sliding backwards for the last 20 years. Do they really think I would tell my children they should be a skilled trade worker. I constantly read articles about industries inability to fill these jobs. Well after what they have done to the blue collar middle class workers, can you blame them for sending their children to college for a chance at a higher paying position with more security? When this generation retires and all the skilled talent is gone, I hope they choke on those jobs. Get an IT job that pays a living wage and be good at what you do.

  8. Peter says:

    This article that assumes we can all work in the knowledge-based industries is clueless to say the least. Some people would die to have the factory jobs back – including millions of African Americans in Detroit and Chicago and other places condemned to decades of unemployment and/or McJobs. Yes, it was the factory job that was the route out of poverty and into the middle class, home ownership, and many other economic and social benefits. Try buying a home on one of your beloved McJob service incomes.

    Really the only thing worse than a liberal is a libertarian – absolutely economically illiterate and selfish to boot. Me, I care about the working class and my fellow citizens. Thus I’m voting Trump so that he can enact tariffs on China to bring the good jobs back.
    America First!

    • Fred Flinstone says:

      Peter:

      Libertarians are hardly economically illiterate. But most politicians certainly are.

  9. Fred Flinstone says:

    Mike Rowe could be insightful here.

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