Profit! What a Concept!

GoodJobI recently visited with a high school “job coach”.  This instructor works with local businesses who provide part-time jobs for students to give them an introduction to the working world.  Many years ago as a high school business teacher I had a similar program – back then it was called “distributive education.”  I found it to be a great learning experience for my students, and some moved right into good jobs with their sponsor employers upon graduation.

I asked the job coach what kind of preparation the student receives before embarking on the job.  It was not a trick question, but the teacher was caught by surprise, and really didn’t have an answer.   I admitted that my recent experience with school jobs programs as an employer had not been very enjoyable.  The student-workers I was assigned were arrogant, lazy, and not really interested in learning anything.  It may have just been the luck of the draw.  I did my best to get them on track.

At the end of our visit, I offered a suggestion to the instructor.  Having been on both ends of the equation – as an employer and a job coach – I think the most important wisdom one can impart to a student, or any job seeker, is an understanding of why a business exists.   Most students (and adults for that matter) when asked “why is that grocery store there?” will answer “because we need food.”

And there lies the problem. 

I gave my new job coach friend the correct answer:  that grocery store exists to make a profit for its owner or investors, who seek to feed their families and improve their standards of living.

It’s a subtle, but important distinction.  Yes, we need food.  But that doesn’t mean someone else is required to give it to us.  Free markets only work when each of us offers something of value to someone else.  We must all be producers of wealth or added value.  Those who succeed understand this concept clearly.  Want to make $5 million a year throwing a baseball?  You had better be good enough that people will fork over big bucks to watch you.  Do you want to own a business?  You’ll do great as long as you offer what a customer wants to buy, at the right price.

Do you want to have a job?  Then you had better understand that the only reason someone else will pay you is if you help them make a profit.

And that was my suggestion to the job coach.  “Make sure your student goes to the job with the knowledge that his or her purpose is to make money for the employer.  And that employers share their profit with their employees – the more you contribute to profit, the more you will be rewarded.  The employer owes you nothing, but he is always looking for somebody who will help him make money.  When you both are making more money, and spending it, the economy grows and everybody does well.”

A light bulb lit above the job coach’s head.  “Why, I never thought of that!  What a great idea!”

Yes, it’s a great idea.  It used to be what made the world go around.  Some may think it’s “old school”, but I’ll put my money on free enterprise, supply and demand any day of the week.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
Big Time, I’m on my way, I’m making it,
Big Time, I’ve got to make it show yeah!
Big Time, so much larger than life,
Big Time, I’m gonna watch it growing!
Big Time, my car is getting bigger!
Big Time, my house is getting bigger!

Big Time – Peter Gabriel

One of the quirkiest, and most popular, videos ever!

3 thoughts on “Profit! What a Concept!

  1. The last year I taught at FHS, approx. 80% of the seniors had jobs downtown. Students earned a free period if they had a job. In addition, several of our classes taught strategies involving soft skills, so the students were aware of what they needed to do in the workplace. I’m fairly sure that the PAD class taught the students about economics. It seems that teachers are asked to do more with less and still prepare students for achievement tests, and there is only so much time in a day. Forty-three years ago when I graduated from school, no teachers taught me soft skills or job skills. I must have learned them someplace, though, because I have always had a job. As an adult education instructor, I talk to our students about the importance of using soft skills and learning job skills they need.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful post Mike.

      Keep in mind my blog reaches across the nation (and world) and addresses issues on a larger scale. However, our own small town school district, like virtually all others, does not really teach fundamental economics. There is a single one-semester class which brushes over some econ topics with maybe a dozen students per year. This is absolutely not adequate in my book. As you know, I want solid economic education for all students, starting young and continuing throughout. I don’t know that schools have ever done a good at preparing students for economic success, and I contend that the results are evident in the dismal financial condition of our nation and many of our citizens.

      Mike, I would not broad-brush our students, but I will state as a fact that my observations over ten years in business showed me that many of them, including some of the upper-tier academics, could not count change, do basic math, or make financial value judgments. They had no clue about anything financial or economic. Great kids, I love them. But clueless, and headed for all kinds of financial problems as soon as they get out of school. Probably no better or worse than students from any era or area. Some will learn economic skills along the way, as you and I did, by trial and error, experience, and with the help of parents and others who guide. Many will struggle financially all their lives. Why does it have to be that way?

      My main message here is that as a nation and as individuals we would be so much better off if everyone understood, fully participated in, protected, and reaped the benefits of our free-market economy. The purity and perfection of Adam Smith’s worldview is religion to me! I hate to see our nation and so many of our citizens struggle because so many of us just don’t get it.

      I’m looking for ways to address this “hole” in our students preparation for life, and I know you and others who really care will be part of the solution.

      • I would agree with you on that. It should be a part of the curriculum. Business classes may teach personal economics, but not all students take those classes. Economics on a new level probably should be part of a 31st Century curriculum.

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