Menace of the job snobs

Gayle Wade examines how we perceivc those who work in jobs that are not traditionally regarded as 'intellectual'

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I got a message from a disgruntled reader, objecting to something I had written about. He suggested that if I could not understand his point, I should go and write for the Beano - or get a job as hairdresser.

Leaving aside the implied slur on the doubtless highly creative team that puts the Beano together, this sentiment neatly encapsulates a form of snobbery that is all the more pernicious because people don't often express it so openly.

This reader seems to be suggesting that a person sitting in an office tapping out words on a computer is superior to one standing in a salon styling hair. This reflects the commonly held belief that studying for three years at university to get a degree is better than spending three years training in craft skills like hairdressing or, for that matter, plumbing.

But I suppose hairdressing has an extra sneer factor in that it is 'woman's work'.

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Personally, I think this attitude should be challenged.

It probably comes as no surprise to my critic that I don't feel I would be able to make a living as a hairdresser. I don't think I'm that skilful.

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Hairdressers deploy precision skills across a wide range. They need the physical stamina to stay on their feet all day and apparently develop powerful biceps from all that work with the hairdryer, brushes and straighteners.

What with millimetre-fine scissor skills and the knowledge of how to handle an array of powerful chemicals - well, what more do I need to say?

Just one thing, perhaps. A science fiction story I once read depicted a world where all service roles were now undertaken by robots - with the exception of bartenders and hairdressers. Both jobs could only be performed by a human being because they require the ability to keep a conversation going with complete strangers all day long.

We all know that the world can't rub along without the necessary skills of craftsmen and women. As soon as the bathroom floods, the central heating boiler goes kaput or the washing machine springs a leak, we are desperate to find the man or woman with the magic touch to fix things.

When we are going somewhere special, having a bad hair day or just needing a trim to keep the hair out of our eyes, hairdressers are very necessary.

Yet somehow, there is still an underlying feeling that people with vocational training do not have an expertise that is quite as valuable as those with academic qualifications.

Yes, we need intellectuals. We need doctors, scientists, philosophers, poets, mathematicians and all the cavalcade of knowledge, theory and invention.

But we also need the people with the hands-on skills that make and shape the everyday world.

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