01/17/2012 01:35 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2012

Janitorial Jobs & the Presidential Candidates

A lot of parents are scratching their heads: Should my kid really take a job as a janitor? How much lower can you go?

Last night on Fox, I watched the South Carolina debates and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich respond to criticism he had received suggesting poor kids work as janitors -- "kiddie janitors" -- in their schools. The story unfolds in a New York Magazine article by Joel Klein here.

We're not here to debate the candidates, but the topic is a valid one. Many affluent parents have shared with me the debate they've had with their private school headmasters over "menial" jobs. The headmaster believes there's nothing wrong while some parents and students believe it's beneath them.

But it's all really a matter of perspective -- and what you do with what you're given.
For instance, I worked at the age of 14 as a maid in a motel, making the $2.65 per hour minimum wage. I did it to earn extra money and start saving for college since the tuition would fall primarily on me. And, yes, I can still make beds the Holiday Inn way!

Go Where the Flocks Don't

But seriously, this is a tough economy, and if a student needs money and there's an opportunity, why not consider it? Oddly, some of the best paying jobs are those we wouldn't ever consider -- many of them union jobs.

Did it ever occur to you, whether it's you or your kids, that you might go where the flocks don't? If money is so important, or even a certain type of experience, why not pursue those avenues that few do? Your chances of success will be much higher -- and the pay might, too.

We don't believe in just taking a job just for the paycheck, but rather, make an experience of it. Whether a student is working at McDonald's or as a school janitor, there are lessons to be learned -- like how to run a business. Even one of my business school colleagues from UCLA now runs an actual janitorial business, cleaning the floors for colleges and office buildings. They are creating their own destiny.

A Self-Enterprising School

This isn't about race. Some schools are operating programs on campus -- whether it's the cafeteria or a bank -- that directly provides students skills. And schools are considering entirely new models -- why not one that makes the employees -- or at least some of them -- the students? Why not teach them how an enterprise is run, customer service, accounting and the like? Wouldn't they be ahead of other students once they hit college or the working world? Sure, you could argue that child labor laws and other rules we need to change -- that it's a cobweb of issues -- but it's an interesting idea.

As parents and as Americans, we need to instill the values of hard work, commitment, and follow-through. Now more than ever, though, we need to also teach valuable, real-world business skills. The role of janitor may not be such a bad place to start both to serve in a job and to ultimately create jobs.