Honest labor bears a lovely face.*

Labor too often gets a bad rap.

We tend to think of labor in terms of its definition as a verb, “to work hard, to make a great effort.” Hard work, great effort does not sound like a good time.

Labor Day is an annual reminder that “labor” and “fun” can go together. From its beginning in 1882, the holiday turned a normal workday into a celebration.

“Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership …The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and ‘a day of the people,’” said former U.S. Department of Labor historian Linda Stinson.

More than a century later, we continue the tradition of Labor Day picnics (some with legal beverages). Across our picnic tables, work may be a topic of conversation.

We may have family and friends with exciting work-related accomplishments to share, while others are jobless or stuck in jobs that seem to be going nowhere. We also may celebrate Labor Day with students, parents and educators who are in full, back-to-school mode and grateful for the long weekend to catch their breaths.

Labor Day is a good time for all of us to think about what we really think about work.

The world of work is constantly changing. The best piece of advice we  can give young people starting out today is to embrace lifelong learning, so their skills will continue to match the needs of the workforce throughout their lifetimes.

The top job skills required to match the highest levels of projected employment opportunities in the state through 2024, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, include a wide range of activities.

There will be job openings, the statistics suggest, for people who know how to order materials, supplies or equipment; who can calculate costs of goods or services, take customer orders, sell products or services, monitor inventories of products or materials, process and collect payments.

Other top skills needed, according to the report, are the ability to explain technical products and service information to customers, to compile data and prepare documentation for contracts, transactions or regulatory compliance, and to communicate with customers to resolve complaints and ensure satisfaction.

There also will be a need for specific skills to serve food industry customers (prepare and serve food) and health care patients (administering basic health care or medical treatments, recording patient medical histories, collecting biological specimens).

Skills that will be required across all fields include maintaining clean work areas and having the ability to confer with coworkers to coordinate work activities. These may seem like little things, but they make a big difference in the workplace, and they are things we can teach youngsters at home and in the classroom. These skills will last a lifetime.

Basic skills required for employment are things we can teach young people at home, in the classroom, and in part-time jobs. I always had a part-time job as a teenager and I am surprised that many teens now graduate from high school without ever working to earn a paycheck. It is the best way I know to prepare for future success in the workplace.

Yes, technology plays an important role in today’s job market. Computers and software lead the list of the Top 50 Tools and Technologies required in Pennsylvania today. Yet, on that list, there are still “manual” tools that appear along with spreadsheet, database and query, presentation, point-of-sale, inventory and project management software.

There are career opportunities for people who know how to use other “top 50” tools including screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, ladders, tape measures, power saws, hoists, hand trucks and forklifts.

Labor Day and other holidays often provide opportunities for several generations to gather and share stories and advice. Young people can benefit from the wisdom and guidance of adults who care about their futures.

If you have the chance, take time this Labor Day to encourage the youth around your picnic table to get excited about their futures. Ask them to think about what they would like to be able to write on their business cards over the next few decades. They may give some off-the-wall answers but, instead of preaching to them about why something will not work, consider how they might turn their passions into real profit in the workplace. Successful people do that every day!

How we choose our careers can be a great point of Labor Day conversation. Whether we found our dream job or not, we all know that what we do for a living influences our overall satisfaction in life.

Throughout our communities and in many of our families, people of all ages are dealing with addictions and mental health issues. Meaningful relationships and purposeful work connected to an individual’s passions can be a path toward healing.

An Ohio State University study suggests that low job satisfaction early in our careers can lead to higher levels of depression, sleep problems and excessive worry, impacting overall mental health. Knowing that even very early feelings about jobs can influence future health and wellbeing signals a need to have positive conversations about career satisfaction with teens now.

If you happen to find yourself across the picnic table from a young person this Labor Day, consider opening a dialogue about careers – not to criticize their youthful choices, but to encourage them to pursue a path that really sparks an interest. Guided by passion and a sense of purpose, they can find satisfaction in life. Your encouragement can help them get there.

Maybe you need some encouragement to find the fun in your labor as well. J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of Work It Daily, says, “You don’t have to be the smartest person to succeed in finding a satisfying career, you just need to be willing to work at it every day until you get there … Those who are willing to invest time every single day in getting smarter about how they manage their careers are the ones who succeed. Studies show the average American spends over an hour a day on Facebook. Imagine what would happen if you peeled off 10 minutes of your social media time each day.”

Labor Day weekend offers you the chance to peel off a few minutes and consider how choosing the right career path can turn your labor into love.

As one of my favorite actresses from the golden age of films, Bette Davis, once said, “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.” #LaborDay

*Quote from Thomas Dekker 17th century Elizabethan dramatist

Photos of lovely faces, courtesy of Pennsylvania College of Technology

P.S. – An Invitation for You

After Labor Day, consider visiting the Gallery at Penn College to experience Mindful – Exploring Mental Health Through Art – an exhibition that explores the impact mental illness has on society and how the arts can support healing. The exhibit will be in place through Oct. 11.

On Thursday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m., the Gallery will host a lecture on “Trauma: Legacy, Biology and the Path to Healing,” which addresses family history, the human spirit and the gift of healing.

The exhibit, reception and lecture are free and open to the public.




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