There isn’t *quite* a poem called sweeping the street by George Herbert, but you don’t have to be religious to grasp the wonderful truth of his idea that you can sweep the street ‘for god’.
There is no qualification, and no amount of training, that can prevent a person with a poor attitude doing their job badly.
Conversely, there is no job that cannot become more valuable if the worker is inspired, and given the leeway to apply their human intelligence to the task.
Let’s think of a job that’s often used as an example of very humble (unskilled) work – Imagine a street sweeper who decides to take their job very seriously, who comes up with ideas for better tools, and more effective ways of using them, who engages with the community around, and encourages everyone to take an interest in having clean streets…
Now let’s imagine a street sweeper with a lousy boss – a boss who doesn’t pay enough to maintain healthy, happy workers, who doesn’t provide decent tools, or allow their employees to use their initiative…
Let’s start thinking about how nothing but a combination of snobbery and capitalism has persuaded us that there’s such a thing as ‘an unskilled job’. It’s the worker who brings the skill to the job. How often that happens, and what level of skill is brought into play, depends enormously on the quality of the employer.
Let’s not forget the lesson the lockdown effort taught us. Many feel that our government did nothing but confuse and lie to us. We, however, stepped up and helped each other. Most started using the phrase ‘key workers’, because we were all so impressed by the importance – and the skill and dedication – of the cleaners, the shopworkers, the health and care staff, the delivery drivers and all the rest who adapted so quickly and so well to helping us get through a suddenly changing world.
I point to the staff of the two little supermarkets near my home in Hastings – one on the corner of the Station Plaza, the other in Havelock Road. I don’t think the companies deserve a plug because one of them paid their lockdown compensation money straight to their shareholders and I don’t think either company is especially respectful to their staff (although they are far from being the worst) but the workers – they were brilliant. With skill, smiles and great organisational ability, they invented the ‘meet and greet’ role. Based on the need to count people in and out of the shop, and to teach all of us how to use their shops in a new way, safely and logically from day one of lock down, their welcoming attitude developed the role so that suddenly, going to the local supermarket was a social pleasure – a moment of reassurance for those living alone through the weeks of lockdown. If anyone ever deserved a pay rise and a huge increase in respect, they do.
What about you? If you’re in the mood, please pop into the comments here, and tell us about some of the key workers you’ve seen doing a far from ‘low skill’ job in recent months – but more importantly, don’t let anyone get away with talking about ‘low skill’ or ‘unskilled’ jobs any more. Insist on our new phrase, ‘key workers’ – and insist that those workers get the respect and payment they deserve.