Discussion: Why The System Is Rigged

Author and blogger Tracey Lynn Tobin brought up a very sad and disturbing topic on her blog recently about how the system is rigged; specifically, how an alarming 27% of college graduates actually land jobs in their college field of study. Having held several jobs centered around Emergency Medicine since the late 1990’s, I thought that I might add thoughts and observations from my own real-world perspective.

Useless Degrees
I have a select group of very close friends whom I have known since age 12.  Of this group of friends, myself included, all but a handful of us hold at least a bachelors degree.  And of those with at least one degree, only one of them is currently working in their field of study.

At the time of this writing, I have not yet completed my degree.  I did, however, go through several years of college, but never earned a degree.  The reasons for this are as complicated; when I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in, let alone what I wanted to do with my life, so I did whatever I could to take classes in fields of study that I found interesting.  Most of the classes were medical related, others were related to computer programming, design, and literary studies.  Eventually, the university told me that I had to specify a major, and take only classes related to the goal of obtaining a formal degree.  When I was still undecided, I was advised to return to college when I had made my mind up.

It has been over a decade, and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

I always perceived college and higher education as a game, and a business that really has no right to claim status as a non-profit entity.  Competitive as it may be, it is truly a game of kissing ass, agreeing with whatever the professor says, even if you believe or know it to be wrong, and memorization of often useless facts and figures, of which you will probably never use or think about once you’re (hopefully) placed in a vocational setting.

I also maintain that the degree requirement by employers is a means of unfairly, yet legally discriminating against applicants, for whatever reason, were not able or were not willing to obtain a degree.  Typically, those who come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, or those who were not able to obtain the necessary resources or opportunities to attend college are those who are discriminated against.  Remember, if we scaled the world population down to 100 people, only 7 of them would have a college degree!  Furthermore, 18 of the 100 people would not be able to read or write.

In most places in the United States of America, employers are unable to discriminate on many factors, including gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, etc., yet it is still perfectly legal and socially acceptable to bar applicants who do not possess a college degree, even if they end up hiring someone who holds a degree in a field completely unrelated to their job description.

And while I am on this tangent, I might add that a degree is nothing more than a certificate of college completion.  It has absolutely no bearing on ones intellect, or ability to perform tasks or earn a living.  I have met many people who hold degrees who also happen to lack intelligence or knowledge in any subjects outside of their degree field.  If you hold a degree, it should not be proof of your intelligence, nor should it be an excuse to think or believe that you are smarter than anyone else simply because you were able to finish college.

Career Changes
Changing careers is a nightmare for most people.  It is hard enough to get a job these days, let alone move on to a different job.  Jobs can be unpredictable at best sometimes.  Perhaps my greatest achievement from a vocational standpoint, was earning certification as an Emergency Medical Technician and Firefighter.  These certifications require a lot of hard work, and regular ongoing training as well as recertification that can be difficult to maintain.

Thomas Slatin - Hobart Fire Department EMT Firefighter - 1999
Thomas Slatin, EMT/Firefighter, 1999

This certification has allowed me to work virtually anywhere life took me.  There will always be an obvious need for emergency medical personnel, as well as trained fire and rescue responders.  Those with certification in both fields are always in very high demand, and have the opportunity to get paid well, and if working for state or local governments, these positions come with fantastic benefits.

Over the years, I have moved through a series of employment positions.  I have worked for many places, both in urban as well as rural environments, and for both public and private agencies.  The highlights of my career were working in the emergency room of a city trauma center, where I would also take ambulance transport calls and respond to the scenes of emergencies, and the time I worked in New York City and the surrounding metro areas.

Working For Free
Every employer looks for some sort of experience.  For whatever reason, people are more than happy to work for free.  In the United States, we generally label working for free an internship.  Companies love internships because for them, it’s basically free labor that is completely without any overhead.

Before I had even the slightest chance at being a paid EMT/Firefighter, I had to volunteer and basically ‘prove’ that I could handle the responsibility of making split-second life and death decisions that not only affected my safety and the safety of those working with me, but it ultimately affected the patient outcome.  In all honesty, I loved it, and I was good at doing it, though doing internships, or volunteer work does not pay the bills.

Unfair Hirings And Promotions
Without the mention of specific names, places, or time periods, I will say that about half of my superiors had absolutely no business being in a supervisory position, let alone being hired for an entry level position in the first place.

I remember having a manager who once went out on an emergency ambulance call with me, and gave the patient the wrong medication despite my repeated stern objections and warnings, which ultimately made the patients condition even worse.  Thankfully, by the time the medication took effect, we were just moments away from the hospital, so the doctors were able to reverse the effects of the medication my manager administered, and the patient made a full recovery.  He was lucky to have only gotten a stern warning from the medical director who told him that he should have listed to me.

At another place of employment, my lieutenant, who was in charge of staff scheduling and maintenance, once called me into his office to complain about my scheduling request.  Every month, my lieutenant would put schedule requests in our mailboxes at the station.  If someone wanted a day off, or was looking for overtime, they had to give management notice prior to the first day of the following month.  At the time, I was only working that one job, and had absolutely nothing else going on.

I clearly remember getting called into the lieutenants office, he slammed the door closed behind me, and basically laid into me angrily because this was yet another month that I did not make any requests for a day off, nor did I specify any special circumstances for time slots I would not be available to come into work.  Unlike anyone else, I left my entire schedule completely open, and specified that I would simply work anytime, day or night, weekends, or weekdays, any holiday, and basically any day of the year.  To my lieutenant, this was unacceptable because my schedule would not come as a challenge, simply because I could be scheduled to come in at any time, and could completely cover any and all scheduling gaps.  It was a situation that defies any logical comprehension; a nightmare scenario for a person who would be incapable of managing a toy model of a public safety facility, though a dream scenario for any logical manager.

Thomas Slatin - EMT, NYC/Metro Areas

Getting Fired
Thankfully, I have never been fired.  Ever.  I am a bosses dream, unless that boss happens to be my aforementioned lieutenant.  I literally put my heart and soul into everything I do.  I have to.  It’s just the way I am.  When working in a position in the medical field, one must absolutely take ones job seriously, as you literally have someones life counting on you.  Every decision you make, every treatment, procedure, intervention, or medication can have serious and often irreversible effects, either short or long term.  It is not something that can ever be taken lightly.

Before I was able to get my dream job, which was working on an ambulance in the New York City, and surrounding metro areas, I had to first fulfill a residency requirement.  This meant basically that even though I was occupying the spare bedroom of my brother and sister-in-laws house, I had no way to prove, legally, that I had, in fact lived there for a period of 6 months prior to my job application.

I ended up taking a very boring job at a home improvement warehouse store as a cashier.  Because of my hard work, I was promoted and advanced quickly, even though I was only working there until bigger and better opportunities availed themselves. The promotions and raises I was granted really irked those whom had worked there much longer than I had.  On the cusp of my 6 month hire date, I was wrongfully accused of not doing my job at a satisfactory level, and I was asked to resign my position because as they claimed, I was not taking the job seriously enough.  It’s ironic that after all the hard work, going above and beyond what was expected of me, that I was the one who got promoted, not them.

The only way to advance in a corporate environment is to cut someone else down.  If I had no heart, and didn’t respect, or hold others in such high regard, then maybe I would advance quickly as well, into positions that I might later on regret or despise holding.

As far as the corporate ladder is concerned, by the time I make it about halfway up, I get tired of having to manage the personal lives of others, as well as mediating the complaints coming from others vying for coveted positions, that honestly have absolutely nothing to do with others job performance.  Once I make it about halfway to the top, the role begins to change from work into management, and I generally leave and seek employment elsewhere.

Welcome To The Dark Side
Those who are able to compete, play the game of college degrees, cutthroat management tactics, and getting promoted for no good reason, are, at least as far as I’m concerned, part of the dark side.

I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.  I still work very part time as an EMT/Firefighter, while at the same time, I am able to pursue my greatest passion; writing, designing things digitally, and taking photographs.  In a sense, perhaps maybe I succumbed to the dark side by becoming self-employed.  Although being self-employed is unpredictable at best, it is by far the most free and unstructured form of employment available.  Free from overzealous bosses, incompetent managers, and set schedules and deadlines.  That is of course, unless I am working on a specific project for a client, but even then, I generally have the privilege of hand-picking my clients and projects, so it works out beautifully.

Right now, I am doing exactly what I want to do with my life (until I come up with a radically different dream or desire), and I have a sense of purpose.  Best of all, I am my own boss, and I have no college debt to worry about paying back.

This article was written as a follow-up to 6 Reasons The System Is Rigged: A Response by author and blogger Tracey Lynn Tobin.  The article that started this discussion, 6 Ways You’re About To Get Screwed By The Job Market was written by Cracked.com writer David Wong.

Making The Case For Why I Didn’t Need An Education


  • Tracey Tobin

    I’ve been meaning to read this since you first linked it to me, I swear, but by gosh have I been busy. o.O ANYWAY…

    This line made me laugh out loud: “memorization of often useless facts and figures, of which you will probably never use or think about once you’re (hopefully) placed in a vocational setting.” I can’t even tell you a tenth of what I learned in college, honestly. The only stuff I’ve ever really used are the basic principals of electricity. Everything else that I know came from on-the-job experience, which I think is the way with MOST jobs.

    Also, I’m totally with you on the discrimination thing, and I think my first workplace would agree with you. They went through a stage (when I was hired) where they wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t have my specific degree. It seemed like a good idea, I’m sure, but what they found was that even though we’d spent the most money, we’d probably actually learned the least. My degree had almost NO hands-on training, so my fellow graduates and I were virtually worthless until we’d been at the mill long enough to actually learn how each individual instrument worked. Before I left, they had changed their stance and were saying that they’d never hire anyone from that degree again unless they had experience.

    That guy who got mad at you for having an open schedule made my mouth drop open. Was he mad that you were making his job easier? I just…really don’t get it. lol

    Excellent post, Tom, although I have to say that my favorite line is the last one, where you say that you’re your own boss and have no college debt to worry about. I’ve got the college debt eliminated myself, but I’m still working on the being your own boss bit. ^_~

    • Thomas

      This line made me laugh out loud: “memorization of often useless facts and figures, of which you will probably never use or think about once you’re (hopefully) placed in a vocational setting.”

      Thanks, Tracey! It’s sad, but true.

      My degree had almost NO hands-on training, so my fellow graduates and I were virtually worthless until we’d been at the mill long enough to actually learn how each individual instrument worked.

      Same goes for me. When I was in college, I learned 99% of things from a textbook. That 1% was actual hands-on experience; generally exhibits and other materials that were small enough to be brought into the classroom. I attended college in a very up-tight and overly religious area in the US, so despite the fact that most of my classes were medical, they still skipped over any discussion of reproduction, and would never allow depictions of “private” regions of the human body (even drawings!) to be displayed in class.

      (You can just imagine my shock when I went out in the real world and was exposed to full frontal nudity on an almost daily basis.)

      That guy who got mad at you for having an open schedule made my mouth drop open.

      It was his ONLY function at the job, so any time someone made his job easier, he sensed that he risked losing it because he had to show that he was working on something important. Not only that, but due to regulations handed down by the city, they had to elect so many officers, so this guy got a promotion just because the company had no other option.

      …you say that you’re your own boss and have no college debt to worry about.

      You have the talent to go on as a full-time self-employed writer. And this is not a compliment that I just hand-out, either. In time, you will make it. You just need patience.

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