Driving hundreds of miles on German autobahns you notice things. Like, if the highway has three lanes in one direction, the far right lane is for slow-moving traffic, the middle lane requires you to be going at least 80 mph, and the far left lane is only for the BMW’s and Audi’s that cruise comfortably at 100+mph.
But I bet you knew that already. The most interesting thing I noticed, by far, was a truck I passed that had, proudly displayed on its side, a large banner reading:
Young European Truck Driver of the Year 2007
Well that caught my attention. Unfortunately as I was passing him in the middle lane, which meant I was doing at least 80 mph, I couldn’t take a picture. But here’s a link to the story about the 2013 young European truck driver competition.
A quick Google search didn’t reveal anything like that in the US, just this competition that seems centered mostly around a particular trucking company. And there’s no comparison in terms of prizes: a new $100K + truck for the European truck champion; $5K for the US winner.
So the banner and the explicit pride of the person still flying it got me to thinking. (Actually I found out that the 2007 winner was from Poland not Germany, but still the thinking occurred.) Germany, which by US standards must definitely be thought of as a socialist state, seems to have a significantly different attitude toward work than we do in America. From waiters, who don’t expect much of a tip because they are actually paid a real living wage, to truck drivers, who are proud of their work as a profession, not a job, individuals appear to consider the jobs they are holding as important in and of themselves, not just as stepping stones to the day they become rich. Which is the feeling you get in the US. People are doing manual labor or service jobs as a transition to something else or out of some sense of desperation/frustration.
There’s many reasons, I guess, for this difference. There does appear to be a German temperament; and German business and labor unions have more adult relations than labor and business do in the US. The German education system also contributes with a dual system that considers whether individuals are better suited for university or for apprenticeship in a profession.
Whatever the reason, you get the sense Germany is better positioned to weather the secular employment problem that is beginning to hit the West and will vex us for many years, if not decades to come. For Germany, gainful employment of its citizens is a priority and a matter of national policy; it’s a social responsibility.
Great observation. I actually had a discussion on the topic of the German labor market today in Prishtina with a young woman who just finished a policy degree in Germany. She told me that while growing up in Kosovo, she and many of her young Kosovar compatriots looked to Germany as a beacon of hope – a booming economy, a relatively successful post-communism reintegration story, and of course, world champion soccer teams.Before she moved there, she studied education policy in undergrad and dreamed of going to graduate school in Germany to continue her studies in education and to make her life there. After spending several years in Germany in school and working, she remarked that the state of the German labor market (in her view) is rather hopeless. She felt this way because she observed that children are aligned at very young ages (under the age of 10 in some cases) to school programs that generally determine one’s vocation. As a result, she felt that there was little mobility and that these students and workers received very few second chances.
Although I am grateful that my academic performance at the age of 10 did not factor in to my college eligibility, I feel like I can see both sides to this. In one sense, it undoubtedly instills a different amount of pride or respect for people in the service and blue collar industries that we don’t promote in America since these jobs are seen as “transitional” as you said. At the same time, my favorite part of the American dream is the emphasis on the idea that we create our destiny and that mobility exists.
Looking forward to more observations from the other side of the pond.
Hey Rob. Thanks for thoughtful comment. I too wonder about downside of German education system. But the seeming result where people have pride and dignity across many economic strata, seems admirable