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.
Fabulous article Carleigh! 100% accurate too!!!
and that observation isn’t limited to horse people coming out of school either, In my experience here in Canada, students are graduating with honors in Math or Engineering disciplines, only to work for the local coffee shop, as they’re graduating with “expectations” of high paying work being handed to them, because they have a degree, and a sense of entitlement, and they’re turning down the “grunt” positions, because their degree is supposed to get them on the path to enlightenment, and the sunshine list of $100k and over! IMO its the parents, grooming their students to do better than they did, got to Uni, don’t work with your hands, get a good education. and those educations aren’t guaranteed to work. Especially in the high end fields.
I totally agree…maybe anyone should start saving their money in high school to pay towards their education instead of relying on loans??? I have hired only to people to assist in barn work, I feed and groom my 3 horses and I watched them sit in their cars on the phone but charge me the time to do it. They never went above any chores and do A bit of extra work if ahead of time. I paid twenty per hour with a minimum two hours paid plus threw in cash for gas. I now do it on my own.
I totally agree…maybe anyone should start saving their money in high school to pay towards their education instead of relying on loans??? I have hired only two people to assist in barn work, I feed and groom my 3 horses and I watched them sit in their cars on the phone but charge me the time to do it. They never went above any chores and do A bit of extra work if ahead of time. I paid twenty per hour with a minimum two hours paid plus threw in cash for gas. I now do it on my own.
I am very happy to see someone so young yet so wise. I wish you all the best. You have the ‘right stuff’
I totally agree with your wise words. I hope those who find themselves searching for their dream job ponder your good advice.
Love this column!!!
So true and you nailed it again.
Love your blog. Discovered it about 2 months ago and started reading from the beginning.
Have a couple of questions that don’t have to do with this particular blog post:
– at what age are racehorses generally gelded?
– for mares that will become nursemares, (a) who generally is the stallion that services them (i.e. does the owner try to get a name stallion or just any stallion) (b) is the pregnancy timed so that nursemare foals are a certain age before the nursemares are used for racehorse foals that need them, and if so, generally how old are the nursemare foals when their mothers become nursemares?
Thanks very much in advance for explaining these things.
I know a lot of us do have regrets about college. I 100% wish that I had gone to be a working student or I had taken my “gen ed” courses at a community college for a lot less money. I have a degree in Accounting with a minor in Equestrian Science because my parents wouldn’t let me choose only the horse path (I realize now that I could have really fought them harder, but at 17 they were still very much the directors of my life).
So, I agree with you that college isn’t the only choice (especially as colleges get more and more about cranking out graduates and less about educating them). I agree that hard work is never a bad thing. But at the end of the day we do have those student loans and many of us are stuck at jobs that don’t challenge or excite us. All of this, and I do feel underpaid while earning zero benefits for showing up and working beyond employer expectations every day for the last 1.5 years.
We don’t all have bad work ethics, but many of us do feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.
I know I will treat my potential future children differently when it comes to choosing what to do after college, and I know most of my friends will too.
I’m not sure I agree with your assessment.
For context, I graduated high school in 2008 and college in 2012. Not only are student loans suffocating my age group, but cost of living has increased as well and wages everywhere haven’t kept up. So between loans and even locally cheap rent they might not be able to eat.
But I also remember being barraged with what can only be described as propaganda that yes I could expect a well-paying job with a degree (they pretty much said ANY degree will do) and that you’ll be able to ‘easily” pay off your debt. It was a lie, but at 17-18 I wasn’t savvy enough to detect it. My parents, who were with me every step of the way, probably should have known better, but they also bought right into it. A lie repeated often enough is often believed by those who hear it. I remember assemblies showing us data on how many multiples greater your earning potential would be with a college degree versus “only” a high school diploma. Then the 4yr schools work their hardest to convince you not to get your generals at a cheaper community college.
So, I feel like we were set up to fail and now are being blamed for it like it’s a lack of grit on a generational level (examples of a lazy young person or two doesn’t count). I did go on to get a graduate degree and will probably work in the sciences as least as long as I have to to pay off this debt before maybe trying to move back towards the equine industry when I can afford to do so.
I think on a societal level we’ve created a glut of workers who literally cannot afford to eat and pay their student loans (that they were pushed to get) at the intro level work. So then these lower paying jobs can’t find staff it’s not a matter of lack of grit or willingness to be broke, it’s a financial impossibility. For most student loans (they get sold to you as “financial aid”) you cannot declare bankruptcy and you often cannot refinance. These are the stickiest loans you can get and you have them from the moment you hit the workforce. Unlike a mortgage or an auto loan you can’t sell the item you borrowed to pay it off. You’re trapped with a degree that may or may not be useful and a pile of debt.
Not to mention that federal financial aid is in the 6-7% interest range–no matter your credit score or your degree (because some are worth what you pay and some are not). We were fed the propaganda that we’d not be able to afford to live without a college degree while the people telling us that were profiting off of higher and higher numbers of students going to college.
We need to get back to trades and apprenticeships where you get paid lower wages without the debt. You get to experience what that field is actually like instead of paying a school to live in fantasy land for four years.
I totally agree with the original post that the cycle needs to be broken.
My younger cousin was once in tears because she was deciding not to go to college because she had a job she loved that didn’t require any degree. People (her parents included) made her feel like that was the wrong choice. Apparently, I was one of the first people to tell her that no, a 4yr degree isn’t mandatory. I happened to be pursuing a vocation that it really does make sense for (ie. biology).
With the exception of reproductive work I think most equestrian careers are going to be best prepared for via direct experience and maybe a few business classes (a certificate maybe?). – Not directly in the field myself though. So I may be incorrect.
I loved that! I get so sick of hearing how our kids NEED a college degree. We ranch and there are so many kids coming into ranching with degrees in what ever. They get the same minimum wage ranch job as the next guy. Every time I hear about how we need to help these poor kids pay off their college loans my head nearly explodes. Keep preaching it!
“So, I agree with you that college isn’t the only choice (especially as colleges get more and more about cranking out graduates and less about educating them). I agree that hard work is never a bad thing. But at the end of the day we do have those student loans and many of us are stuck at jobs that don’t challenge or excite us. All of this, and I do feel underpaid while earning zero benefits for showing up and working beyond employer expectations every day for the last 1.5 years.
We don’t all have bad work ethics, but many of us do feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.”
OK. I’d like to address this paragraph.
Guess what? You are not ENTITLED to a job that “challenges and excites you.” You are not entitled to a job at all, frankly, and that doesn’t have anything to do with your loans. (I had loans as well—-and I paid them off by living with a lot of people in a small apartment and making $17,000 a year, while eating ramen, rice, beans and food from my second job as a waitress.) Being “underpaid while earning zero benefits for showing up and working…” Be glad you have a job. Work your ass off, not just “beyond employer expectations.” If you were really going above and beyond, truly knocking it out of the park, your employer would have told you by now. 1.5 years? The rule of thumb was always to expect two years in your first job out of school before looking for the next position up the ladder. If, at 1.5 years, you’re not getting indications that you’ll be moving up the ladder where you are, then you’re not working hard or smart enough. Time to check in with your boss on how you can assume more responsibility, get some real feedback on your performance, and start to earn your way to the next step up. Stop whining. You’re not trapped. You’re just overly self-impressed.
I have gotten four raises since I started working here and my boss has said on numerous occasions that he is very happy with me and my work. After I had been here a year I did ask for that talk on what he expects of me and whether he likes my performance (the answer was complete satisfaction with me and wanting me to literally stay here forever).
There is no “up the ladder” here. I work for an small ag business and I’m already in charge of all of the finances (accounts, billing, creating bids, payroll, etc.). Wanting a job that challenges and excites me is the goal (as I think it should be for everyone though some will fall short). Just because I complain about it doesn’t mean I don’t work hard and take pride in what I do accomplish.
Colleges often give graduates unrealistic expectations of their worth in the marketplace. They send young adults out into the world with an elevated opinion of their value in the marketplace that also leads to unrealistic expectations of qualifications for jobs as well as compensation. I work in HR and have worked at governmental companies, publicly traded companies, privately owned and startups and it has been the same story at each organization. Just because you have 4 year degree doesn’t mean you are worth a lot of money or responsibility. You MUST prove yourself in the workplace, especially if you don’t have a professional degree (eg engineering).
No employer cares much about your student loans or how you paid for your education. The market determines what fair pay is for a job and if you took the job as XX pay rate, then don’t whine 3 months later that you aren’t making enough money. I’ve worked with plenty of 2007-2016 graduates who were hard workers and proved their worth and were rewarded, but I’ve also worked with plenty who had elevated opinions of the work they wanted to and would actually do for their employer. Nothing beats good old elbow grease in any working environment. You’ll get much further in your career if you never say “that’s not my job”. I promise.