The best thing that ever happened to me was graduating college in the recession.
It was 2008, and I was one of those kids that entered school with high aspirations of six figure jobs and Doctor in front of my name. I had gone to a fantastic, albit extremely expensive liberal arts school – one that cost more for four years of education than what many American’s make in a decade.
And in May of 2008, as I tossed my cap into the air and hugged my fellow graduates, I thought to myself “Yes. This is when I set off into the wide unknown and MAKE IT.”
And then the stock market crashed.
And then I didn’t get into vet school.
And then my father passed away.
And then I moved to Lexington, Kentucky with $1,000 to my name and a cat.
I started as a small animal vet tech, quickly transferred to selling cowboy boots at a local store, and yet still found myself floundering. No one was doing well. Paychecks were hard to come by, and hours were hard to find. Everyone was struggling.
So I began to drive from farm to farm looking for work, only to find that few were hiring. With the market crashing, horses took the brunt of the hit. A hobby sport to most – when budgets must be cut, the ponies tend to go first. And with less horses there were less staff needed on the farms. People were begging for work – just to muck a stall or drive a tractor – and therefore the inexperienced 22 year old blonde girl got the brunt of it.
No one wanted to hire me.
So when I was finally hired at Chesapeake Farm in March of 2009, I was shocked. The average starting salary a decade ago was $8/hour, and yet I was offered $10 due to my ability to work in both the office and on the farm. I worked 50hr+ weeks without weekends and brought home a paycheck of about $300/week, leaving my monthly salary at $1200 – and an annual income of about $15,000.
$600 of those dollars went to rent, $150 went to my truck, and another $120 to my private health insurance plan. I ate peanut butter sandwiches, hacked onto my neighbors wireless internet, and watched old DVD’s of Grey’s Anatomy on repeat. I didn’t buy new clothes, I didn’t eat out, and I sure as hell didn’t own or ride a horse.
But at the end of the day, I loved every minute of it.
Because I had come to know how hard those jobs were to come by, and I didn’t want to risk losing mine. I showed up 10 minutes early and was always the last to leave. I offered to short shift, turn out yearlings, and do the evening treatments. I didn’t think I was hireable anywhere else, and because of that, I busted my ass.
The recession nearly did me in, but the recession was the best thing to ever happen to me.
And now ten years later, I just don’t see that same drive in our recent graduates.
Because in the last few months, we are hearing of the opposite problem. Farms desperately need help, and visas for foreign workers are limited.
We need an American work force, and yet can’t seem to find one.
In 2008, you weren’t able to find a job. And in 2017, you can’t seem to find the help. The work is nearly the same – its a lot of hand walking, currying, mucking out, and leading to and from. The hours are nearly identical – six days a week, 8 hours a day. The only thing to have seemingly changed are the paychecks – as the income has increased drastically – with wages that would have made me salivate ten years ago.
And yet the work force doesn’t seem as driven.
These youngin’s are coming out of college and demanding that they start at the same wage as the men and women who have been hoofing it for decades. They bemoan of student loans and truck payments, fancy rentals and their own personal livestock. And they complain of the long hours, back breaking labor, and rough stock.
They float from one farm to the next, always assured that they will find another job. They don’t give two weeks notice, and they expect all holidays off. They claim to want to work with horses, and expect the piece of paper from their local universities to automatically feed them into a managerial role.
They are too comfortable.
I advise a number of students, both intentionally and not, through my role as a course instructor, and I have heard the gauntlet of fears, concerns, and complaints.
And at the root of most of this issue is money. These students lament over their high student loans and their inability to work for such cheap wages in order to pay these back. And I feel for them, I do.
Except I kind of don’t.
These kids enter college in an equine programs field expecting what? To graduate and immediately earn six figures? They know that undergrad is going to cost them a good deal of money, and they sign the dotted line to take out those loans – usually cushioning with a bit of extra funding in order to live in comfort for the next four years. And then they happily lope through college living the high life.
Until what? Until the real world hits them.
And yes, there are options for those kids upon graduation to make a decent amount of money with that degree. Pharmaceutical sales, equine insurance, or even heading off to law school, graduate school, or vet school. But those jobs are limited and those careers are hard to obtain.
And many of these graduates don’t want that. They want to work WITH the horses. They want to be the farm manager, and they expect that managerial job to come to them immediately.
And thats where things get tense, and money gets tight. Because the majority of the farms could care less if your degree is in an equine field or in English lit. They don’t check your GPA – they check your driving record. And at the end of the day, the majority of farm owners would rather hire a manager who can speak Spanish than compute SAS code.
And that farm owner/manager didn’t sign the dotted line for you on those lines, or sign your agreement to the nearest University. What they did sign off on was providing you with a living wage and a decent work environment. They did not make your prior decisions for you, so don’t expect them to rectify them.
We need to get out of this vicious cycle. We need to promote educational venues outside of the stone walls of University. A college degree isn’t the end all/be all, especially in this business surrounding our beloved equines. We need to encourage our youth to pursue higher professionalism, not higher education. We need to teach promptness, cleanliness, and a pep in a step – not just Calculus and Shakespeare.
Because this business needs this generation, and this generation needs some hard work. To realize that a hards days wages are worth it. To learn the value of callused hands and cracked skin.
To understand that job’s aren’t finite. That you can be replaced. That the economy and the industry can crumble around you no matter how hard you might try.
I’m not praying for another recession, because lord knows that was a scary time. But we need a kick in the ass. We need a come to Jesus. And we need some fear, and the men and women of the work force with which it creates.