The Value of Work

Future Men - The Value of Work

Future Men is a residential academic and life skills program for young men, ages 15-20.

Aaron Boldman, Director of Future Men, shows how youth can get free on-the-job training as an apprentice to a local business. The skills and knowledge gained from this experience come together to instill a strong work ethic giving youth genuine self-esteem and helping them later in life to acquire and keep a job.

In today’s culture we seem to have lost the value of work. Some see work as a punishment, some see it strictly as a means to an end, but has it always been this way? Apparently, somewhere along the way we have lost the idea that work is a privilege, something to be enjoyed.

I was brought up in a Christian home and was taught that work was instituted by God ― God before sin, meaning it was not a punishment. So if it wasn’t a punishment or a drudgery type of activity, then why do so many young people see it that way? What has happened? The Bible teaches that God gave humankind “dominion” over the earth and that he was supposed to “keep” it. In other words, he was to take care of it and cause it to produce for him. This was to bring people joy through belonging and accomplishment.

We all enjoy the sense of accomplishment which can be gained from a hard day’s labor. But it is the process of that work that we have tried so hard to avoid that gives us this sense. In reality, we cannot have the feeling of accomplishment or achievement without putting in the work.

Avoiding work, we have tried to fill in the purpose and fulfillment it gives us with entertainment and false praise. We take extended vacations, play hours of video games, and look for almost any affirmation we can find. Many young men, no longer a part of contributing to the society around them, have turned to gangs or unhealthy and deviant subcultures to find belonging. However, temporary diversion always leads to emptiness or trouble.

We need to remove the “what’s in it for me” thinking from our concept of work. In past eras, young men would be apprenticed to a tradesman for up to seven years. During this time a young man would receive room and board, but the idea of payment would come later. He was learning. Today’s youth seem to think true training can only take place in schools and that working without pay is a waste of time likening it to slavery. This is both a misunderstanding and a missed opportunity.

When a young person begins to think about his future, he seems to neglect the fact that he needs to develop a work ethic, an eye for detail, the ability to see what needs to be done, and the value of a dollar. Where does he acquire these traits? This is where we as a culture are dropping the ball. There are indeed readily available answers for those who truly wish for change. (As a quick side-note, at the time of this writing I am 44 years old. The words I am saying almost make me laugh as I feel like I have become my grandfather! This is how out of place this type of thinking has become.)

In times past, most kids grew up doing chores. Today, however, most homes have little to no work for the kids to do as outside help is hired to ensure that work is “done right.” This is a missed opportunity for training and learning.

In a typical American suburb it might be hard at first to see work that could be used to train our kids, but it is there. Many of the young men I work with at Future Men tell me that if they were getting paid for their efforts, they do a much better job. Now some of the work they are referring to is as simple as daily household chores. Doing a household chore makes one a part of a community, being paid to do a chore makes one at best a hired worker, and at worst one who is getting paid to clean up his own mess. This is backwards thinking.

Instead of paying children to do things that give them a sense of belonging, help them learn the value of work through these simple household tasks. When a child has the basics down, begin to look outside the home for other areas of training. For example, a child can help others in the neighborhood. There are very few people who will turn away a young person offering free labor.

Taking on a young worker requires patience and a desire to train, but many are willing. Is there a small business owner you know near you? Talk to them about your son or daughter working with them one or two afternoons a week. If you present it as a win-win situation, I think you will find success. Gradually, the training starts to take hold with your child being productive and an asset. The ability for your child to work himself or herself into a job is almost certain.

When a young person goes around looking for a job, he/she is certain to find roadblocks. In a tough economy, there may not be any money for a business owner to spend on more help. Or because of your child’s lack of training, the employer cannot justify hiring him. But when services are being offered for free . . . well, that’s a different situation.

There are many frustrated young people who have been hired at a certain workplace, but all they do are menial tasks and clean-up. They feel useless or that they are going nowhere. In a sense, they are correct. An employer sees an employee who is getting paid as a person to keep busy. As a volunteer apprentice, however, they see a person who needs to be trained. There will still be the times of clean-up and menial tasks, but there is also a focus on learning. This makes all the difference.

Many parents would be excited to think that their child was out learning a trade, the wages being irrelevant. Most young people spend their money on temporary things or even foolishness anyway, so you can hardly go wrong.

As a young person gains skills, confidence builds. This leads to a more productive and healthy view of self. Being a contributing member of society brings belonging and ownership ― it is a step towards true adulthood.

As parents and educators, we need to begin to teach the value and pleasure that comes from hard work. We need to point out opportunities to those we have been entrusted with, and help prepare them for joy in the work environment.

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