Planning for a Life-Career

Impressions Insufficient

In the preceding article we saw how the great changes in methods and organization of work make it impossible, without special study of the matter, to know much about the work of the world. Many people talk about the vocations with out special knowledge; they think about them in terms of an earlier time, for a few years often make a vast difference in the growth of a vocation. Perhaps they have only impressions based on scattered observations. They may have a fair notion of what the vocation means, but impressions are insufficient for purposes of vocational choice.

Special Study of the Vocations

Today, therefore, a number of specially qualified men and women are spending time in looking into the conditions of various occupations. Their published studies not only tell about the wages, hours, and other facts of vital interest as regards certain employments, but, what is of equal importance, they show, among other things, whether the work lasts through the year, or keeps the workers busy for only a few months and then lays them off. We have lately begun to learn something about seasonal employments, as they are called, and we now know that occupations which may pay high wages for only a few months in the year are not nearly so desirable as those which pay smaller wages but are steady and keep the workers busy throughout the year. In other words, it is well to know what a worker receives not in weekly but rather in annual income, for living expenses go on just the same whether work is temporary or steady.

Public authorities, like city and state boards of health, and sometimes official commissions specially created for the purpose are investigating employments to find out if they involve any peculiar dangers to health, or life, or morals. Public conscience has grown sensitive to the matter of physical and moral risk in employments and many new laws have been passed in the States for the purpose both of safeguarding workers and of shutting out those too young or otherwise unfit.

Protecting the Young Worker

In the State of Massachusetts, for example, and there are other States with like laws which protect young workers against injury, no child under sixteen is allowed to work at or near such dangerous machinery as circular saws and many other kinds of swift-moving tools ‘which cut or stamp. We have seen many pathetic cases of young persons who have lost fingers, arms or legs, while working near belts or sharp knives moved by steam or electric power. The country does not want to see its children injured in this way, and consequently factories are visited by officials to ensure that the laws for safeguarding workers are enforced. The laws in some States go further and try to keep children from working in places which are not helpful to character-building, for the country is anxious to guard its future citizens against moral as well as physical dangers So children may not work in tobacco factories, liquor stores or billiard rooms. Bad companions are as dangerous as buzz-saws.

What Sort of Associates?

Every home also should ask the question, What sort of associates will our boy and girl find in this or that trade and business? Are the workers and the surroundings probably such as will strengthen ambition, good habits, and efficiency? No wage or salary, however high, can ever make up for the bad results of low associations. People everywhere are so convinced of this truth that laws have been passed, and many more laws are sure to be passed in the near future, to keep children away from occupations which debase character.

Work and Citizenship

We have good reason to rejoice in the growing desire to make the vocations help in the building of good citizens. The more people care about such things, the better for all the vocations as well as for the workers in them But many years will go by before we really do this duty well, the duty of lilting every occupation into a force for good citizenship. One sure way of helping to bring this about is to disseminate more and more knowledge as to what the vocations return to their workers in the way of ennobling influence.

Keeping Up to the Standards of a Profession

Everybody respects the doctor because in this profession the standards are so high. The doctor must think of his patient’s welfare above everything else, and must sacrifice himself, if need be, to this end. In the interests of their profession doctors have lost their lives, and in so doing have shown other physicians how to save lives. We have all read of the heroism of those doctors who discovered the cause of that awful scourge, yellow fever. In order to prove that this disease was carried by insects, two surgeons allowed themselves to be bitten by mosquitoes which had previously bitten yellow fever patients. The result was that the disease was communicated to the doctors, who died, but their work enabled us to build the Panama Canal under healthful conditions. So we know that a ship-captain or a locomotive engineer must think of the passengers first, no matter what the danger may be. We expect sympathy in the teacher and integrity in the lawyer and business man, and where these qualities are missing, all the world condemns those who fall below the traditions and standards of the profession.

Now it is not too much to hope that the standards of all the work which the world carries on will in time be raised, so as to make fine men and women of all workers. It is only because we do not use our imaginations that so much of the work done now falls below this ideal. But we are making great advances in this direction. In some localities, it is true, very young children are still allowed to work long hours without any schooling or play time, and there seems to be little or no anxiety felt as to the kind of men and women they will become. But gradually the world is becoming convinced that boys and girls who are not given a chance to fit themselves through study and play with strength and happy ambitions for the life-career, turn out to be very poor citizens.

Protecting the Worker From Excessive Fatigue

Tired men and women with no strength left to improve their minds and lives, doing any odd jobs for a living, or working long hours for very little pay, cannot be expected to help their country to develop as it should. Because we gave so little thought to such matters in the past, many a promising life has been destroyed. It is quite likely that we cannot do away with all danger and fatigue no matter how much caution we use; but of this we can be sure, the more attention we give to the matter, the greater will be the number of people we can save, and the smaller will be the number of accidents arid cases of disease.


Work is done nowadays under such pressure, speed and turmoil that some constitutions unable to bear the strain break down. Hours of labor have, therefore, been shortened, night-work prohibited to women and children in many industries, and laws passed to help ease the burden under which people toil. Moreover, enlightened employers have been trying on their own account to lessen the strain by providing rest periods and recreation for their workers. In some countries, very back ward in humane ideas, men and women, and children too, may be seen laboring like beasts of burden, and apparently there is no concern felt by those above them as to how the work affects them, or how the nation as a whole deteriorates when it suffers the overwork and the breakdown of its people.

The New Ideal of Citizenship

But in all advanced countries there is now keen interest in the industrial life of the people and a growing desire to keep the workers in sound health, fit for their work and civic duties. Because of this new ideal of citizenship, friends of boys and girls are concerned that the work they go into shall be safe and proper; they are concerned, too, that each youth shall be given the opportunity to make the most of what it may be in him to be. This indeed is a great goal for any nation to set before it—that every child shall be encouraged to make the most of life, to be efficient, to be .self-supporting, and useful to self, family, and society. But even to approach the goal is not easy, unless the public, the home, the school, and even the boy and girl themselves, all help.

How Boys Used to Start in Life

In the Middle Ages parents who wanted their boy to have a good start in life and an assured future would bind him over to some employer, apprentice him, as it was called, and pay a good round sum of money for this opportunity of their boy to learn a trade. The boy must then be “indentured,” that is, settled with the employer for seven years, living with the master in his home during all that time, working with him in the shop, and other wise being wholly under his control. If the boy ran away, the authorities must look for him and bring him back, where punishment was sure to await him. But boys did not run away much. Although the discipline was very severe, in some instances altogether too harsh, boys were glad to be able to learn a trade so that some day they might be masters on their own account with apprentices to help them. Without such apprenticeship there was little or no opportunity for the boy to amount to anything. There were no schools or libraries or boys’ or girls’ clubs in those days.

The Apprentice Under the Guild System

The masters, or master-craftsmen, and the professional men, too, of the Middle Ages were organized into powerful bodies called guilds and no one could enter any occupation without the preliminary seven years of service. No wages were paid to the apprentice, although the master provided food, clothing, lodging, and medical care. But when the apprenticeship period was over the youth who, after an examination by a committee of the guild, showed proficiency, was admitted after a trial term to the full privileges of the craft. These privileges often carried important civic rights such as free citizenship and the right to travel from place to place. In the course of time the apprenticeship system broke down, and when steam-power, labor-saving machinery and great factories began to take the place of water-power or human power, and of hand labor, small shops and home manufacture over a century ago, the system of indenture almost entirely disappeared.

One result of the disappearance of the apprenticeship system is to make it difficult for the average boy to learn a trade or profession.

Necessity of Special Preparation Today

Only in rare cases to-day, usually in the very large stores or industries, do employers make any provision for training their employees for the higher and better-paid positions. To the well-known professions beginners must come prepared, usually through a special school. The young lawyer cannot as of old prepare for the bar by reading in a lawyer’s office. A law-school education must come before the practice of law, and usually a stiff bar examination after completing the law school course. So the doctor, dentist, engineer, accountant, and teacher must go through a preliminary course of training. In this way the professions are raising their standards and weeding out the unfit. In a growing number of retail stores there are classes in salesmanship. Several public and privately supported schools are also carrying on such classes. Even the selling of goods over the counter has become skilled work. In fact, although natural ability forwards one in almost any vocation, special preparation is now necessary in addition to ability.

Little Chance for Special Preparation in Office or Shop

The disappearance of apprenticeship opportunity is indeed a serious loss, for without some such provision it is only by accident that certain abilities ever see light. It is better for people, while young, to find out so far as possible what they can best do rather than to try them selves out in the precious years when they have already started life’s work. Besides, the employer is not anxious to try out too many employees. There is little time for instruction in a busy store, office or shop. What usually happens, therefore, is that the average boy or girl is put to some simple task and kept there everlastingly. Seldom is there any effort made to find out what they could do better. So long as they do reasonably well, the one thing they are engaged to do, they keep their place. If they fail they go. Neither they nor their employer can tell anything about their real merits, about the possibilities of their success in some other task or department.

In other words, the vocations to-day expect their beginners to know something and amount to something at the very outset. They have their minimum requirements. Those who fall below are not wanted. Also a large mass of work to-day is done in such subdivided manner as to require very little real intelligence, skill or preparation. This work is done by those who have not put forth the effort, or have not had the opportunity, to make special preparation for something better. Such subdivided work rarely calls for anything more than ordinary attention and health. As anybody can do it, thousands who should really be doing more profitable and stimulating work rush in.

Subdivided Work and Unskilled Workers

A word, however, is needed in connection with such un-educative, low-skill or no-skill employments. The world needs the product even of these industries; this work must be done. The question is not who shall do it—but under what conditions and on what terms shall it be done, so as not to hinder the growth of the workers? This question is important to the employer as well as to society.

The world is now beginning, though too slowly, to be sure, to scrutinize every occupation on the side of its advantages and disadvantages. It is a blessing, of course, to be well occupied. But we are learning to regard misemployment as hardly less of an evil than is no employment. That is, we are asking of every occupation not only questions as to hours, wages, seasons, and dangers, but also what its educational and moral influences are. It is a growing belief that all necessary work can be carried on in a way which shall be helpful instead of hurtful to its workers.

The Telegraph Messenger Boy

For instance, we are familiar in this country with the small figure of the blue-uniformed telegraph messenger boy. Delivering messages is useful work, but only very recently have we begun to examine into the nature of this work and the future of messenger boys. We have learned that messenger service is conducted by us in a way which is often injurious to the health and even citizenship of the boys. In some German cities messenger boys are better looked after. There they receive instruction and are generally better safeguarded than is the case with us. England several years ago woke up to the fact that it was employing many boys as telegraph messengers in connection with the post office, which in that country carries on the telegraph business, too, and that when the boys reached the age of sixteen or seventeen and were too old for mere errand work, the government simply dismissed them and took on other younger boys. The English people became alarmed over this waste, and the messenger service has been changed so as to allow the boys, while in their early period of messenger employment, to fit themselves for permanently useful life-career.

Nine Thousands Occupations

In the United States census of occupations we find something like three hundred different general occupations listed, and with the more important subdivisions the list grows to over nine thousand. Nor does this list by any means exhaust the number. If we turn to the letter “8” in the census index we find the following names of occupations:

  • Silker
  • Singer
  • Sizer
  • Skeiner
  • Skidder
  • Skimmer
  • Skinner
  • Skiver
  • Slasher
  • Slater
  • Slaughterer
  • Sleever
  • Slipper
  • Slitter
  • Slubber

Studying a Vocation

We have chosen only a few of a long list. How many people can tell to what operations they refer?

How shall we study an occupation? How can the school and the home help boys and girls to get a knowledge of the vast and complicated field of employment? In the next article will be told something about the interesting experiments which schools and other organizations are making in the field of life-career help to boys and girls. Here we shall consider some of the more general matters in the study of a vocation. We may roughly divide all vocations into four classes:

  1. Those which require no special knowledge or manual skill.
  2.  Those which require manual skill.
  3. Those which require knowledge.
  4. hose which require both knowledge and skill.

The Training for a Vocation

The knowledge referred to here is that which is specially related to the vocation in question. For example, a teacher of English must have a knowledge of grammar, composition, and literature and must know how to teach. When once we find out what training and talent a vocation demands, we are in a position to inquire further as to ways in which workers can obtain their training for it. Have all beginners the chance to master the whole occupation? Is there any systematic instruction in the shop or office? Is there any provision for apprenticeship, and if so, for how many apprentices? If we find no provision for training inside the vocation, the question arises as to how and where the training may be had. And in connection with this question is the no less important one as to where the best training opportunities are.

Qualifications for a Vocation

Not only must we study the vocation from the side of training, but we must regard its demands and conditions. What qualities are demanded—physical strength, endurance, accuracy, memory, dexterity, courtesy, caution, alertness, taste, imagination? The list is endless, as we proceed to analyze what each employment calls for in the way of qualifications, yet such a list every student of vocations must make an effort to draw up, as it helps in measuring one’s self in the light of the world’s requirements.

We have to consider, moreover, whether the work is in itself unwholesome or carried on in unhealthful places; whether it involves any peculiar physical or nervous strain; and whether it checks or promotes intelligence and good citizenship.

How to Discuss the Vocations

We have now gone over a number of points which we do well to keep in mind when we talk about any particular occupation. Many more might be suggested. A good method for any teacher or parent who is interested in planning with boys and girls their future life-career, would be to take a number of familiar employments, say the trades and businesses of the neighborhood, and try to make a catalogue of all the good points and bad points of each. One boy might be asked to make a list in two columns of all the pros and cons he can collect about the corner grocery store, another might bring in a simple study of what a lawyer, doctor and civil engineer need to know. Perhaps two boys, or the class in two divisions, might debate some occupation, one from the side of its advantages, and the other from the side of its disadvantages. Boys and girls who throughout the last years of school life engage in such discussions will go forth into the world with unusual preparation.

Vocations a Life-study

Enough has now been said to show how very hard it is to take the real measure of the varied occupations of mankind. They are indeed a life-study. They cannot safely be guessed at. If children have in the past stumbled into success and somehow made their way as strong men and women to the front, let us remember that no one writes biographies of those who do not succeed and of those who only half-succeed when a fuller life might have been theirs. Business and industry have been changed by the progress of the last twenty years. It is infinitely harder now than ever before to drift or stumble into success; there are too many ambitious and well- schooled boys and girls coming out of our training schools to-day for a drifting boy or girl to have a good chance to get ahead.

Know Thyself

Much has been said in this article about the careful study of the points in each vocation. One reason for suggesting this is the help such study gives to a proper understanding of one’s self. We really study ourselves when we study the vocations, and unless we do study ourselves we cannot plan intelligently for the work we desire. We should know ourselves in order to find our selves. What are we good for? What can we do well? Why do we fall behind in this or that task? What habits of ours enable us to turn out a good piece of work? What habits trip us up?

The difficulties in planning for a life-career come not only from scant knowledge about the occupations but also from a failure to face ourselves as we really are. One benefit to a young person in talking about the work of the world and its demands with his parents and teachers lies in the clearing up of his ideas in regard to his own character and in the fresh inspiration he receives to enrich his natural equipment with the powers which the world prizes.

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