What constitutes a real job? Offices, ties, a wage gap? What makes an employment opportunity legitimate? Is it a grad scheme? Is it statistics, fact-checking, a corner desk with a wilting hyacinth? Can a ‘job’ be a career?
Customer service: a common ally amongst the student population, a consistent in the otherwise fluctuating path between academia and the inevitability of graduation. For most, this is what we fall back on in our long and seemingly endless breaks between semesters, but what about after? Graduation, Mortar Boards and gowns, happy smiling pictures that will be hung in pride place at home until university is all but a vague memory. University is supposed to prepare you for a career, a path, to put you on the road to achievement as it were. But the sheer nature of higher education means that, for most, university is a rite of passage, and a career is a problem for the future.
Universities need to be proud of their alumni, regardless of salary and whether or not they have a name tag.
What I want to know is, what is wrong with customer service? Hospitality and retail are often lucrative and accessible, with an abundance of opportunities for progression should one want it. It can provide adaptable skills, common sense and most of all, patience. A hard industry, but one that is often profitable in many ways. Most people will say that all industries are hard. This is true, but the very nature of customer service is interaction with every facet of the population, rather than the isolated communication I imagine exists in more ‘professional’ occupations.
My argument is that, regardless of your degree, you should follow the career that you want. A lot can change between choosing your degree, graduation, and ‘real life’. I know for sure that I am not the same person I was at 18, and I am not going to tie myself to a lifestyle according to that one decision I made a million years ago. This does not mean to say that if you pursued a degree in Physics and you decide to become a barista that you’ve wasted your degree. Academia provides adaptability and work ethic, priceless skills for any employer.
One thing that is often neglected in the conversation on careers is the inherently middle class nature of universities and the more working class nature of customer service, purely due to its availability and frequency in opportunity. Regardless of its students and their individual backgrounds, the university wants to boast of its graduates’ successes, to inevitably entice new students with its employability rates, and thus continue the cycle of undergraduates and the income that accompanies them.
But note that, on the posters on campus of prestigious alumni, none of these names are those who have gone on to make careers in customer service. The university is a classist institution and one that, had the student loan not existed, would still be exclusively for the middle classes (and still is to some degree). A more dynamic student population means more diversity in careers – customer service often being a large part of this. Universities need to be proud of their alumni, regardless of salary and whether or not they have a name tag.