Finding niche in workforce challenging

By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist

I recall, as a child, riding back from my grandparents’ homes late at night.

We would pass by small river towns in western Pennsylvania, with blast furnaces of the steel mills sending up glowing red, blue or yellow sparks against the dark sky.

Piles of coal and slag dotted the countryside. These were raw materials or byproducts of the steelmaking and coal industries that, in those days, were the staples of western Penna, West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

These were neither as dramatic nor pretty as the blast furnaces, but — we came to understand — were economic necessities.

Those were the days when people worked, and were proud of their labors.

The dignity and value of mental or physical labor was not even a question; it was a given. My dad worked with his brain, a scientist. Others worked with their bodies, such as my Uncle Ralph: they created the steel.

Beyond dispute, one worked; free rides through life were unthinkable.

Sadly, the times seem to have changed.

I recently met a young adult who, after sporadic employment since high school years ago, was talking loud and long, even belligerently, about how hard he worked and how he knew what it was to work.

I tried not to laugh out loud.

I have met other unemployed young adults like him who have not found the “right job,” who are not willing to do “that kind of work, who are “waiting for something to come along.”
I am tired of biting my tongue.

I guess it’s easier to collect a check every month.

Labor Day honors the workforce. Labor Day is not supposed to be like Veterans’ Day, the honoring of one segment of society. By this I mean that not everyone is meant to be a veteran; not everyone does or should serve in the Armed Forces.

But work? Everyone is supposed to work, and Labor Day is supposed to honor us all.

It is a privilege to be able to do work that one enjoys, no question about it.

A significant aspect of my teaching job is that it prepares young adults for careers they will — hopefully — enjoy. What makes my wife’s job meaningful to her is vocational rehab counselors help people find new careers after disability or illness.

However, until one finds that niche in life, is one supposed to be simply “on vacation” at the expense of the rest of us? The attitude seems to be increasing, and it disturbs me.

There’s an innate dignity in work; people feel better about themselves when they contribute to society and support themselves.

This dignity is not reserved for a few; Labor Day celebrates the efforts of all of us.

In a society where people begin to see working as an option, not a norm, there is a fearful question; which way is this society going?

Is it going on a free ride in the dark of night?

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at: