Thursday, May 10, 2007

Let's Create Guest Worker Vacations!

Concerning immigration and the labor shortage:

It has been my experience that anytime a problem is converted to an asset, then everyone concerned wins. An example of this is the bio-diesel industry. A waste product is turned into a desirable commodity and everyone benefits. Maybe it is time to change the way we think about Migrant Workers and farm labor.

Basically, farms have a labor shortage and wage issues. Cities around the country and especially Seattle have a gold mine in bored, middle income, people looking for diversion and exercise outside their usual life. These two issues could be brought into one program that allows city people to do farm labor while calling it a vacation.

I estimate that about 4 million people per year drive from Seattle to the cities of Ocean Shores, Westport and Long View to spend $1000 for a weekend. Given the right options many of these vacationers could be diverted into the farm work force.

I read with interest an article on the impending labor shortages in the food production industries due to crack-downs on illegal immigration. I will not address immigration directly in this message, but I want to put forward an idea that could help farms find a new kind of "Guest Worker".

In the 70's and 80's my parents spent the summers picking fruits and vegetables in Eastern Washington. During that time we lived in a tiny travel trailer and parked at the various farms as we picked our way through the harvest season. As a child, I hated the summers we spent in the dusty, dirty camps, often we were the only gringos working in the area. Compared to the families that lived in the "bunkhouses", our little trailer was a mansion. My friends in Western Washington thought my family was insane to spend the summer working this way, but they all loved the truckload of fruit and vegetables my family brought back with them to split between the neighbors. The last 2 weeks of the summer were spent in a home canning frenzy that would provide food all winter long.

Looking back at the time with more wisdom and a bit of nostalgia I realize that the summers we spent as Migrant Workers offered something that is very hard to come by these days: A job with specific goals and the satisfaction of a job well done.

The average American works a job that typically means repetition and vague goals spread over a large group of workers. There is very little chance to start a project and see it through to a successful end. This 9-5 type of career leads to job and financial security, but doesn't fulfill the basic need to create and grow.

Other industries are taking advantage of this basic unrest by offering working vacations and volunteer vacations, the basic idea being: anyone can enjoy hard work for a week or so and then return to their "real" jobs mentally and physically rested.

I would like to point out a typical website that features working vacations:

NOTE: These working vacations cost $599 per person and up for 2 days!

Raising wages is not the only way to attract more workers. I believe that farms could attract workers by taking the focus off the wages being offered and concentrating on the other benefits of being a "Guest Worker" for a week or two each year.

I would love to get feedback on this idea and I would love to brainstorm with anyone who is capable to actually making this possible.

1 comment:

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