Five generations of Prepping Lessons……Part Five

Stories of Survival: Society changed the rules on them.

By Harriet, Editor-At-Large Australia

No 5. Rex and Tony



Note: Rex and Tony are current family members and names have been changed to protect them.

In New Zealand, up until the 1980s, schooling was just to teach the basics. Most children left school before their last year — We didn’t then graduate from school, we just left. The way education was set up, some 30% of children would leave school without attempting their School Certificate at age 15 (year 10) or thereabouts. Of those who did sit the examination, only 50% would pass. It was set up to cull those out who were unsuitable to study for their university entrance examination. That meant that only about 45% of the population left school with any type of school qualification at all, and about 20% left qualified to go to university, with less than 10% graduating in the sense we know now. A number of those who didn’t get a school qualification went into trades after school and came out with a trade qualification. Most of the others developed their skills during work experience.

After the restructuring of the economy starting in 1984, getting a job was a highly competitive experience. Only those with the top qualifications and the best work history managed it. By the mid-1990s, those who had been schooled in the 1960s and 1970s and who had previously had no problem getting work without a post school educational diploma or degree had been restructured out of ever getting a job. People from their mid-40s, through their 50s and 60s who didn’t have a piece of paper — a qualification from a tertiary or trade institution — weren’t able to become re-employed if they lost their previous occupation for any reason. If a person had not achieved a post school qualification, then they couldn’t get work. It was as simple as that. It was now necessary to stay at school until 18 and then go for a three year tertiary qualification. And for those who didn’t get it during their teens and early twenties, they had to go back and spend 3 years and get their papers to do the work they had been doing before the restructuring or to re-qualify in another area while going into debt for the time it took to do so. 

Rex was one of those who hadn’t done well at school. He had a patchy work history, never staying in any one job for very long but he had never been unemployed. Rex had become computer literate before computer skills were taught at university. He developed a great set of skills but never saw the need to go to a tertiary school to get the piece of paper, after all he already knew how to do the job. He gained a position in charge of setting up a brand new local area network in a tertiary institution (When people with these skills were few and far between.) in a rural city and did a good job. However, the head of the institution decided the job now needed someone with a degree and they took on a new graduate with no experience who couldn’t do the job instead. The new graduate asked Rex for help, but he couldn’t pay him because there was only one salary and that was for him.

In the mid-1990s at the age of 50 the only job Rex could get was cold call sales canvassing on commission. It was heart breaking work trying to sell things to people who didn’t want them. Friends recommended he go onto government handouts and just relax into an early retirement, joining a local choir as he liked to sing. This wasn’t to his liking and he decided to see what Australia had to offer and emigrated to where the work was. He and his wife of 30 years started again with six boxes of household possessions and three suitcases of clothes. By dint of frugal living and hard work they have reestablished themselves buying a block of land and building their own house. Rex will retire soon, happier than he has ever been in his life.

Tony became trained in a fabulous trade after leaving school. He became a photo lithographer in the early 1980s. When he qualified the job paid more than a medical specialist earned. But those were the hey days. Slowly, as more people became computer savvy and as Photoshop and other computer programs started to become more available, his job was perceived to be less and less valuable. By the time he had been in the job for 20 years he was only earning average money. Within another decade he was earning well below the average income. He hadn’t changed. His skills had increased. But the skills were no longer perceived to be as valuable.

Tony became morose and even more inwardly focused. Socially introverted, Tony became depressed at the injustice of the rules changing. Finally, after being expected to fix other people’s messes yet again he reached out and took a job driving buses, a 50% increase in income and without the need to spend huge amounts on retraining in another field.

Lessons learned: We have to recognize that the rules change in society. If we don’t change as society changes there will be a price to pay. Either we continuously upgrade our education or we may well lose out. Even if we do upgrade our education we have to make sure we choose a qualification that will be in demand as society changes. The other lesson is that each generation has somewhere with the opportunity to earn reasonable money and it can be worth while going exploring to find out how to get in to those jobs. Our context is continuously changing. We need the eyes to see what is going on and prepare for it.

To be Continued… Stories of Survival: Part 6—Polly & Pat, Surviving disease and ill health.


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