EDITORIAL: Rethinking value of jobs and careers

Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 8

“Taiwanese values” has become a catchphrase in the political arena and stirred up heated debate over its definition, but the values people should really be examining are those taught to the younger generation in classrooms and at home.

Two weeks ago, about 136,000 students took the annual two-day national college entrance examination, a test that determines students’ career paths and helps shape who they fundamentally are.

For the past decade, Taiwanese society has been weeding out outdated concepts that no longer sustain today’s more progressive values and growing emphasis on individualism, but some ideas, unfortunately, seem entrenched, particularly so when it comes to professions.

Most people keep a mental scorecard of their evaluation of the “worth” of a particular job. Sadly, the scores seldom reflect their perception of the profession, but rather society’s collective notion of it.

For example, professions that come with a big paycheck and a revered social status are often ranked at the top, such as doctors and academics. That is why most people in Taiwan have heard stories of a “friend of a friend” being forced to enroll in medical school because their parents think “it is for the best.”

One level below that are jobs that offer stability and a relatively descent salary, something that, despite not being able to invoke immediate jealousy, would at least not raise eyebrows during family gatherings, such as civil service or other white-collar jobs.

On the bottom layer are professions considered to be “unconventional,” ranging from artists, performers and bartenders, to designers, professional gamers and social activists. If one pursues any such lines of work, family turmoil is almost always inevitable.

Some might say that society has changed and that the stereotypes and prejudices people used to have toward certain jobs have relaxed, until stories, such as one late last month about eight professional gamers from Hong Kong Esports being rejected from renting an apartment in Taipei’s Nangang District (南港) by other residents, are shared.

The gamers were rejected because some residents feared they could be “drug addicts and scumbags that could contaminate the neighborhood.”

To assuage the residents’ concerns, the gaming club had to ask the gamers to apply for a police clearance certificate to prove they are law-abiding people.

Also last month, the Taipei Department of Environmental Protection revealed last year that a record-high number of applicants with higher degrees applied for cleaning jobs.

The department said about 40 percent of the 3,560 applicants had college degrees and the majority of them were aged between 20 and 39.

The main draws of the job are its stability and relatively good salary of NT$39,000, the bureau said, adding that the average age of its future applicants is expected to drop, while their average level of education is expected to continue to rise.

There is nothing wrong with being a cleaner, but one cannot help but ask: How many of the job applicants chose a college major based on their parents’ orders or society’s expectations instead of their strengths and interests, and then found themselves unemployable after graduation?

This is an old topic, but renewed attention is needed as long as society’s lingering prejudices toward different professions continue to prevent young people from following their hearts or cause them to be judged for doing so.

Until people are working where they belong, where they can really put their talent to good use, talk of industrial reform or solving low starting salary issues is only scratching the surface.