Have you ever had a book in a pile waiting to be read, and then felt disappointed with yourself that you hadn’t yet read it when you learn that the author had died? This happened to me with a book by Roger Scruton when he died in January, and it happened again at the start of this month with the death of David Graeber. The book I hadn’t read at the time was his masterpiece of 2018, ‘Bullshit Jobs’.
There is a lot of well justified soul searching at the moment about the implications of ‘new normal’ and what aspects of our way of life we should seek to rescue from pre-Covid times, versus what we should take this opportunity to change and move on from and fashion anew.
Graeber was an interesting thinker; an accessible working class academic with some pretty challenging things to say about our modern way of life. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Rise of Pointless Work, and What We Can Do About It’; quite an engaging and interesting topic in my opinion.
So what is the relevance of this to a construction recruitment consultant’s monthly blog and dare I ask; is my job in construction recruitment according to Graeber a bullshit job? I’ll let you decide that one yourself, but before you do, please finish reading this blog and have a read of Graeber’s book too...! The relevance of the book to my train of thought, can be boiled down to two points David Graeber makes in a fantastic Podcast that references his book. In it, Graeber suggests that a really good way to greatly reduce environmental damage would be for people to spend their time working less, for ‘bullshit jobs’ to be eliminated, and this could partly be achieved through ‘batshit’ construction projects not being constructed.
By the Americanism ‘batshit’, he means ‘crazy’ construction projects that are wholly speculative ‘white elephant’ projects; iconic towers, massive office developments and whole new airports that are, in his view not actually needed either now nor needed in the future. In a new era where governments around the world are promising to build us out of a Covid induced recession and aim to mitigate the related construction jobs downturn, it’s no bad time to be having a debate about which economic models are being relied upon to guide us and the choices about what it is that gets built as a consequence.
These issues inevitably court controversy and debate, but it’s surely a pretty good time to be listening to both new and old ideas and to be considering what the world of work is ‘for’ given the very nature of work, how much of it there is available, and where we perform it, is for many, changing before our very eyes as a consequence of Covid-19.
Choices are being made by governments around the world about which jobs will be saved and which created, and also which ones will be protected or be allowed to be lost. The uncomfortable reality though, is that ‘Viable’ jobs and ‘bullshit’ jobs are not opposites as one might at first think. It’s worth reading Graeber’s book to understand his insights. I wish I had read it sooner. I’d like to think that finding people who want or need a new job isn’t a bullshit job – but let me know what you think after reading the book.
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada