Un-Stigmatizing Skilled Labor

June 01, 2009 1 min read

A recent New York Times Magazine essay, adapted from Matthew B. Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soulcraft, explores the pressures students face to get a four-year college degree and pursue a white-collar career. Crawford, who has a Ph.D. and a history of white-collar jobs (including heading up a Washington, D.C.-based policy organization), looks at the cultural stigma surrounding careers in skilled-labor. After five months at the policy organization, Crawford quit to open his own motorcycle repair shop, which, he says, has brought him emotional, intellectual, and physical satisfaction. A choice, notes Crawford, that for a “gifted young student…is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive.”

The stigma surrounding labor jobs, believes Crawford, is undeserved and untrue. “Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid.” His experience repairing vintage motorcycles is as intellectually stimulating, if not more so, than the white-collar jobs he held in the past.

In Crawford’s words, “A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world.” His hope is that, along with the change in the way people think about work and money in the face of this economic crisis, parents, educators, and students might start thinking differently about careers. “The good life comes in a variety of forms … For anyone who feels ill-suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.