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Reminiscing on 50 years of employment

In a just a matter of just a couple of weeks, the end of May will be upon us. Really, that’s not all that big of a deal, with the exception of one personal fact. It will mark the 50th anniversary of my graduation from high school.

As my newsroom cohort Holly Taylor and myself are in the beginning stages of contacting all our local schools in order to obtain photos of graduating seniors, my mind keeps drifting back to the day I received my high school diploma, and what lie ahead during that particular stage of my life.

For me, it was a summer job at Fram Filters in Murfreesboro and then on to Chowan College to begin a quest to obtain an Associates Degree in Graphic Arts.

There was no question that I would have to find a job to help support myself. Yes, my parents offered financial assistance, but I needed to blaze my own trail and navigating that route to adulthood took money. And the only way to have money is to come from a wealthy family or find a job. My path followed the latter route.

I don’t want to bore you with a “back in the day” story, but things sure were different when I graduated from high school and college. Jobs were plentiful back then and there were plenty of people seeking employment….even with the minimum wage at $1.85 per hour

It was the fall semester of my sophomore year at Chowan that I first landed a part-time job for this newspaper. Even then, at the age of 19, I had already held down full time jobs at Fram and Belk-Tylers, both located in Murfreesboro, back in the early 1970’s. And that’s not counting working on the family farm during my time in high school.

When I first came to the News-Herald there were in excess of 100 full-time employees, basically because it was such a labor-intensive effort to publish a print product back in those days. Case-in-point: we had two, eight-hour shifts (with 15 employees per shift) just to handle typesetting and ad composition. Thanks to technology, that effort is now handled by one person.

Technology also impacted other newspaper production areas. I first learned the business by working in the offset camera room. That department no longer exists….ditto for all the film and chemicals we used as well.

The manual composition of newspaper pages, that once employed five full-time employees, is also a thing of the past. We employ a single page designer and that individual performs the same task for several of our sister newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

The point I’m trying to make here is that businesses of all shapes and sizes have downsized in manpower thanks to an upscale in technology. The 100-or-so individuals it took to produce a newspaper 50 years ago has dwindled to less than 10, but yet we don’t skip a beat when it comes to informing you of what’s going on here locally and what business is offering products at a bargain price.

Fifty years after I entered the workforce, we are emerging from a global health pandemic that turned our lives upside down. Some businesses shuttered their doors due to COVID-19, forcing unemployment rates to skyrocket. Those that did remain open either reduced their workforce or struggled to find laborers willing to risk their health to report to work.

Now, thanks to face masks, social distancing and the availability of several vaccines, the virus is waning. More and more people are venturing out and looking to get back living a normal life. That means more foot traffic for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Jobs are plentiful right now as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses are looking to get back to normal and are hopeful that sales will increase. I would urge everyone capable of working to find a job if they don’t already have one. The unemployment benefits that were thankfully available through state and federal coffers during the pandemic will not last forever. Once they are gone, there will be a mad rush by the unemployed to score jobs. I recommend finding one now before you are left out in the cold.

And I join with those who are advocating for a higher minimum wage, although I think $15 an hour is too big of an increase all at one time. Something along the lines of $9 to $10 per hour is more reasonable and would also prevent small, mom-and-pop business owners from closing up shop. They can’t afford to pay their workers 15 bucks an hour, especially after licking their financial wounds inflicted by the COVID-19 virus.

Look at it this way….minimum wage is better than zero wage; and hopefully those just starting a job at the bottom of the pay scale aren’t thinking of staying at that level for the rest of their careers.

I started at less than $2 an hour, but that was only for the short term. I worked hard; I showed my boss that I was willing to work and to prove it I cross-trained in different parts of the newspaper business. The pay increases soon followed and my confidence level soared.

Anyone can do that, but you first have to lose the mindset that you’re more valuable than someone who started at the bottom and worked their way up in confidence and reward (a paycheck).

Congratulations and good luck to all the members of the graduating class of 2021. Hopefully, 50 years from now you too can look back on a satisfying professional career and encourage others to follow their dreams.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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