Poised for Greatness

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/16/2022

Poised for Greatness

Even if you’re not a country music fan, you are probably familiar with the hit Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Not only is it a catchy tune, but also to some degree, I think everyone finds it relatable from time to time when workplace frustrations arise. It is normal to be frustrated with one’s job on occasion, after all, it is work and not play. But, if you find yourself humming Paycheck’s song regularly and harboring the sentiment within, it may be time to rethink your career choices and find GREATNESS elsewhere.

It appears as though record numbers of Americans are doing just that—they are quitting. This economic phenomenon has been termed, “The Great Resignation.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the monthly resignation rate remained fairly stable over the past 20 years up until February 2021, and during that period, it never exceeded 2.4% of the total workforce. In April 2021, that number began climbing rapidly despite record numbers of job openings. By November 2021, a record 4.5 million workers tendered their resignations, bringing the “quits” to a whopping 3.0%. Fortunately, there were also 6.7 million new hires that month for a net gain, but something remarkable is certainly afoot.

This economic trend is fascinating in its own right; however, as educators and parents guiding children at a career-technical school, we must dive in and analyze! What are the forces driving The Great Resignation? More importantly, is there anything we can glean from it that will prove valuable to our children in the midst of their own career exploration? Let’s see.

First, let’s unpack some of the sentiment behind all of these resignations. Numerous articles, surveys, and studies show a complex array of factors that compel individuals to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere. I can’t possibly cover all of them, but I can share a glimpse of the underlying conditions from my research.

The pandemic set the table in a number of ways. Initially, routines were broken—many took a pause from work as they knew it, and in many cases new work modes were established. Many people got an extended taste of what it is like to set your own schedule and work remotely from home. Millions lost their jobs altogether and embarked on new ways to make an income—it created the conditions to reinvent oneself either by necessity or desire. Another big driver was childcare. Displaced youngsters became a monumental issue overnight, and many parents had to make difficult career choices to contend with it.

Living with the pandemic over the next two years didn’t get any easier. It is fair to say that very few career sectors have gone unscathed by pandemic conditions such as mandates, restrictions, worker shortages, and supply chain issues. The net result is that our jobs have universally become harder, more stressful, and growingly unpleasant. In a word, “burnout” is setting in, and it’s causing droves of people across all professions to rethink what they are doing for work, how they are doing it, and ultimately reassessing what they value at this stage of the game.

Next is the labor market. With job openings swelling in excess of 10 million over the last few months, opportunity abounds for anyone seeking a new arrangement. These conditions won’t last forever, but at this time, it is easy to see why frustrated individuals are emboldened to take the plunge and look for better work opportunities. Whether it is better compensation and benefits, different working conditions, health concerns in the workplace, fulfilling a dream of self-employment, or the consideration of retirement, the conditions are ideal for anyone inclined to make a change.

Speaking of retirement, the U.S. labor market is at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers reaching retirement age. This is significant because, according to Seniorliving.org, 10,000 Baby Boomers will hit retirement age every day from now until 2030! That is likely to give The Great Resignation some staying power for what would otherwise be a short-term trend.

After all of my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that “The Great Resignation” is a misnomer. This is an explosion of individuals [re]thinking their careers and choosing a better fit. Yes, the “quits” are off the chart, but the new “hires” are significantly greater. Through my lens as a career-technical educator, calling it “The Great Exploratory” is more fitting. Although there is a lot of grief and hardship driving The Great Resignation, the underlying premise is one of hope and excitement. Just as we teach our freshmen in Exploratory to evaluate all aspects of a career choice, workers across all generations are digging in and evaluating that very thing. 

During their four years at BVT, we push our students to pursue their passions, explore their strengths and weaknesses, and learn the many facets of a particular career field and where they fit into it. They get a sense of what they want to do for work, how they prefer to do it, and what kind of compensation and growth to expect in a given career path. We hope they discover as many of these things as possible so they are a step ahead in, as Mark Twain would put it, “…making your vocation your vacation.” On a side note, they also know that it is equally valuable to explore and experience career interests and learn what they do not want to do for a living!

When I think about our students and their futures, calling this “The Great Opportunity” would be apropos for the current trends in labor. As the Boomers are retiring in massive numbers, the foreseeable future is bright for anyone entering the workforce. Our students have an opportunity to learn a skill, master a skill, and deliver a skill. In my opinion, they are poised—poised for “Greatness.”