Is Entry Level Work the Dodo Bird of Today?

Brad Beck asks with artificial intelligence, robots, and innovation nearing incomprehensible growth, will our next generation of workers get the experience that past generations received? Beck addresses concerns regarding entry level job opportunities for unskilled laborers quickly diminishing due to minimum wage laws, regulations, and young people not being taught to work.
The Kim Monson Show
The Kim Monson Show
Is Entry Level Work the Dodo Bird of Today?

The dodo was an extinctflightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius. The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the years following, the bird was hunted while its habitat was destroyed. The extinction of the dodo within a century of its discovery calls attention to the previously unrecognized problem of human involvement in its disappearance as well as predator species. The characterization of the dodo achieved recognition in literature from its role in the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it has since come to be a symbol of extinction and obsolescence.

Today with artificial intelligence, robots, and innovation nearing incomprehensible growth, how will our next generation of workers get the experience that past generations received? How will unskilled laborers enter the workforce if there are no entry level jobs? I worry those opportunities are quickly diminishing due to minimum wage laws, regulations, and young people not being taught to work. McDonalds just opened a fully automated restaurant here in Colorado. Other fast-food chains have followed suit.

My experience at working and getting paid started early on Sundays when several bundles of newspapers were delivered on the front porch of my parents’ house. I would get up and fold the thick layers with a rubber band and stuff the papers into the cloth bags attached to the front handlebar of my Schwinn. I would struggle to ride my bike to deliver those papers with the heavy weight pulling me forward as I peddled around the neighborhood. When I started as a paper boy, I would throw the paper towards the front door. I quickly found out the rubber band would not always hold the heavy paper together if they were thrown too hard. After picking up several sections of newspaper and reassembling them, I discovered that hand delivering the paper to the front step earned me bigger tips on collection day. That was an early lesson about business and my labor when I was a kid. People will pay extra for an action that provides good service.

A friend of my parents owned a book distribution business. They needed some warehouse workers to receive close-outs and returns with old price stickers placed on the cover of the dust jacket. My job was to peal the old stickers off the books, organize them, and then sweep the floors when things were slow. I learned how to carefully remove those stickers and then organize returns to become resaleable merchandise. The lesson learned was carefully repurposed goods, perceived as unsaleable, became sellable if handled correctly. This work was perfected by repeat actions enabling me to become proficient at my job.

Before I had a car in High School, I worked for a different family friend delivering milk and dairy products on Saturday mornings. He would drive the route as I read the order form and retrieved items from truck cooler, such as ice-cold homogenized milk, American cheese, and butter. I’d place the items in a wire cage basket with a handle. When the truck stopped, I would run to the front door with those bottles clanging, drop off the new items, and pick up the empty bottles. I would run back to the truck and off we went. When we finished with the milk route, we would drive back to the apartment complex he managed. I would do odd jobs like cleaning the recreation room and gym, wash down the common areas, driveways, and sidewalks. I learned to ask, “what else I could do?.” My initiative was rewarded with extra cash.

When I finally earned my license, my father let me use his hand-me-down VW Super Beetle to drive myself to work. For a time, I washed dishes and bussed tables at a local Italian restaurant. I worked at a sportswear store as a stock clerk and then moved up to be a shoe salesman. I moved on to sell industrial tools and supplies after school in a telephone boiler room opening leads for the professional sales team. When my dad was traveling as a manufacturer’s representative in the flower and craft industry, I would help him out by stocking shelves and taking inventory for his local customers so he could be on the road selling. All these jobs taught me what I did and did not like doing. These opportunities taught me to arrive early, stay engaged, and focus on the task at hand even after it was officially quitting time. All these actions helped me learn to listen more effectively, communicate better with people, and gave me ideas on how to work more efficiently.

When I went off to college, I stumbled through many more odd jobs including carrying remanent carpeting up and down stairs of a two-story showroom. I bunched bleached thistle for a weekend but had to quit since I could not handle the smell. I was a fry cook at an A&W Root Beer flipping burgers. I found out quickly what I did not want to do the rest of my life. I was driven to find those jobs that I would enjoy and have fun with. I made friends with an older student who was going back to school to earn his AA degree. Like me, he loved music and was in fact a musician and fellow disc-jockey at our college radio station. He was the leader of a country-music band, and he hired me as a roadie and disc-jockey to play records between sets when the band took their breaks. From all these experiences I found that I liked working and entertaining people. From this opportunity I got a job as a disc-jockey at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus restaurant.

What did all jobs teach me? I learned the discipline of showing up early and staying late to finish a job. I dressed appropriately for the position and practiced proper hygiene. I worked harmoniously with others by listening and communicating in a way in which my co-workers would want to be treated. I worked on understanding the skills needed to do the job and comprehending what was expected of me. I asked for help when I did not know how to do something. I learned how to solve problems and seek solutions that I could take to my employer, so that the company and the customer benefited.

I experienced what I liked to do and what I did not. I traded my time and labor for a paycheck, yet also acquired the skills needed to make me a better employee and person. I gained an appreciation for the value and dignity of work by learning the “trader principle,” trading value for value. These jobs eventually led to a profession and a career in sales which I still enjoy forty years later.

I understand there have been, and will always be, changes in the types of jobs young people will need to enter the workforce. I am all for innovation and eliminating those repetitive processes that once were someone’s job if it leads to bettering lives in the long run. In the short term some jobs will be altered or eliminated.  Yet, I wonder if this next generation will be fortunate enough to have a chance at entry level jobs in this new marketplace. Will they get those same opportunities and have the motivation I had to learn the value of work, labor, and action or like that flightless bird, will it be a thing of the past?

The dodo used to walk around, And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground –The Dodo is not there!

From a Hilaire Belloc poem about the dodo in his Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896)



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