February 09, 2009


Charles Platt Goes Undercover At Wal-Mart

Interesting article about working at Wal-Mart. And this paragraph:

[An employee] was invited to corporate HQ as a guest at a management conference. "It was totally different from what I expected," he told us. "I thought it would be these fatcats talking about money, but no one even mentioned money. All they cared about was finding new ways to satisfy customers. I met everyone including the chairman of the company."

reminded me of this quote from the movie Sabrina, which I blogged about some months ago:

What's money got to do with it? If making money were all there was to business, it'd hardly be worthwhile going to the office. Money is a by-product.

And this thought bears repeating:

To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn't pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills.

(Thanks, David.)


David Foster wanted to post a comment, but neither of us can figure out why it's getting rejected. So I'm just gonna stick it here:

I agree that there should be more emphasis on vocational education...but we need to be realistic that as things are, people without college degrees may do very well for a while but are eventually likely to see their progress halted by lack of the piece of paper. For instance, someone might learn to operate and program CNC machine tools and make a very good living doing so. He might even be promoted to department foreman. BUT, when it comes time to pick a new plant General Manager, the job will almost certainly go to someone with a college degree.

The education cartel exercises such a dominant influence on our society that it is hard to see how we can ever force it to relax its grip.

Posted by Sarah at February 9, 2009 08:17 AM | TrackBack

Bingo. Job skills, and the market for job skills. Wal-mart does well for their people. The ones who are capable of moving upward do. Those that aren't? They are the ones that you see behind the check out counter.

Posted by: Tibby at February 9, 2009 10:57 AM


I wouldn't write off "the ones that you see behind the check out counter" as being incapable of moving upward. Some are just starting out, and perhaps others don't want to move upward.

Platt wrote,

This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians.

Not often enough. The everyone-must-go-to-college mentality must end. Now. Even a university degree doesn't necessarily teach marketable skills. And as the supply of degrees goes up, their value goes down.

Posted by: Amritas at February 9, 2009 11:30 AM

You're welcome!

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at February 9, 2009 11:48 AM

If everyone who thinks every child should go to college knew how many of the first years (I do mean years) in college are spent on remedial courses they would be appalled. Technical schools should just be a part of the high school program. Dumbing down didn't just start this century, we have teachers who were not taught, we are compounding the problem in so many ways. Don't get me started!

Posted by: Ruth H at February 9, 2009 12:59 PM

Here's an example of the mentality I was referring to:

We believe that all students should graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.

- Bill and Melinda Gates (emphasis mine)

Yes, prepared ... to take lots of remedial courses (as Ruth H pointed out) and be in lots of debt ... all for a sacred scrap of paper. Hooray!

In today's self-esteem society, some college graduates think they deserve 'better' than Wal-Mart. Maybe they don't even deserve to work at Wal-Mart.

Posted by: Amritas at February 9, 2009 02:07 PM

Sorry, the quote should be attributed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Posted by: Amritas at February 9, 2009 03:06 PM

In the years I taught, I met plenty of kids who had no business being in college. They did not know what they wanted or, worse, many knew what they wanted & could have easily started doing it without sitting in school for four years & putting themselves in debt.

There are many who have the desire, but not the ability to succeed in college. Others have all the ability in the world, but like the fire to challenge themselves. I don't worry so much about the first group b/c desire is a wonderful motivator. The second group? They are the ones, I assume, who would like for the taxpayers to care from them from cradle to grave.

Posted by: Guard Wife at February 9, 2009 05:03 PM

I, obviously, meant to type 'lack the fire' rather than like. Sheesh.

Posted by: Guard Wife at February 9, 2009 05:04 PM

I'm glad David Foster's comment is on the front page where it belongs instead of down here somewhere.

I know people sometimes have to get degrees to be promoted. On the one hand, such people may have the skill and motivation to complete a degree late in life. On the other hand, that degree is expensive and may not contribute much to their new position.

The education cartel exercises such a dominant influence on our society that it is hard to see how we can ever force it to relax its grip.

I agree. Although I'd like to agree with Ron Merrill -

The decline of the university is not an obstacle, but an opportunity. It ought to encourage us to develop alternative means of education ...

- employers probably want to play it safe with established brand names and may not acknowledge such "alternative" credentials.

Posted by: Amritas at February 9, 2009 07:57 PM

I realize I'm a little late to this party, but...

I lived in NW AR for 8.5 years. For those of you not aware, this is where Wal-Mart got its start, and is where the home office is still located. My best friend's husband, a fairly smart, but not book-learned, man, started out as a store associate in one of the local retail stores. He eventually got a job in the home office, working in the department that does store layouts. He's never gone to college, but, to a certain extent, at least, Wal-Mart doesn't care, if you can do the job and prove yourself to be a dependable employee. There are things I don't like about Wal-Mart (I've been told the corporate/management culture has changed drastically since Sam died, and that he wouldn't be happy...), but someone without the means to go to college can still work their way up the ladder there.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 12, 2009 02:22 AM

That's a great story, Miss Ladybug. Thanks for sharing. The party never ends in the gulch!

It's sad when a company loses its founder's vision.

Are there companies that flounder at the start, but acquire a real vision (not just hype) under new management who maximize initially neglected potential? Surely they exist, though I can't think of any examples offhand.

Posted by: Amritas at February 12, 2009 11:59 AM