Many of our sons and daughters are discovering that the welcome mat to a quality job and the middle-class life is no longer there. It is a tough employment scene out there and it is predicted to stay that way for some time.
On the other hand, there is a strong chorus of employer complaints that the new crop of graduates from our high schools and colleges “just don’t know how to work.” They report that young hires are friendly and quite tech-savvy, but are distracted and unfocused on the job. Speaking about recently graduated employees, one boss offered, “These kids come to work like they are strolling into the campus coffee shop!” Another asked, “Why do they seem so entitled?”
One explanation for this situation might be that the world of work has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Since the turn of the century, business and industry in the U.S. have been struggling with intense competition from overseas. Owners and managers are feeling pressure that just were not there during the “Morning in America” good times of the Reagan, Bush #1 and Clinton era. As never before, employers are bottom-line oriented. Before they hire another worker they anguish, “How will this person make money for our company? Will he or she make us more competitive?”
There is another explanation for the dissatisfaction with new workers which can be traced back to changes in our educational system, particularly our secondary schools and colleges. About forty years ago, the schools quietly changed from being knowledge and discipline centered to becoming “student centered.” Teachers were told, “Don’t be the sage on the stage, but a guide of the side” and other such educational shibboleths.
This new approach to education provided “learner friendly environments.” Translated this means classrooms where students can “be themselves” and where failure has few consequences. Teachers, once valued for their wisdom and command of their subject matter, are now valued for their ability to “connect with kids,” to be buddies. They are encouraged to engage students in dialogue and refrain from being judgmental of even the most inane student comment. “That’s an interesting thought, Jasmine. I’ve never considered that the Founding Fathers were sexist pigs.”
Standards were relaxed and, in turn, students relaxed. The “gut course” entered the educational scene. Grades became inflated and homework deflated. More time was needed, after all, to explore the burgeoning world of electronic games and social networking. To say the least, the realities of the new American workplace and our relaxed educational system has been lousy preparation for a paying job.
So here is some unsolicited advice for the fresh-from-school job seekers.
First, keep this thought ever in your mind: your new boss will be continually asking himself, “Is this guy or gal going to improve my operation? Will he or her make money for me? How will this hire affect my bottom line?”
Second, from day one…from hour one…be ready to prove your worth. Be ready to do the dirtiest job and do it so well that the boss will be impressed. Be ready to arrive early and stay late. If asked to make coffee, don’t raise an eyebrow. Find out whether he likes it strong or weak and then make the best cup of coffee the boss has ever had.
Third, while at work, forget Facebook, the Onion, email, Twitter and all the rest. Don’t be seen with earbuds, surfing the Net or making personal calls on your cell phone.
Fourth, don’t expect your boss or supervisor to be a friend. Don’t call him by his first name until he insists on it. He may act like a friend, but his first responsibility is to judge whether or not you are improving the operation.
Fifth, if you know there is something you can do, don’t wait to be told. Volunteer or, better, just do it. The words your mom always loves to hear are, “What can I do to help?” So, too, with your boss.
Sixth, if your boss is a jackass, keep it to yourself. If he’s stupid or lazy or arrogant or prone to dark moods or simply a terrible manager, suck it up and shut up. Don’t gossip. Don’t join the “whiners club.” Remember, that jackass is providing you with a pay check.
Seventh, learn how to make steady eye contact and how to remember instructions and to follow them. If you don’t understand what is expected of you, don’t be afraid to keep asking until you do understand. If you make a mistake, admit it. Expect correction and realize that you learn more from correction than from praise.
Eighth, speak like an adult. And, please, drop the all-purpose answer “no problem”. Of course it is “no problem”. You are getting paid to do it! Remove the filler “like” that infests the current speech patterns of your peer group. “Do you want the coffee…like…with sugar or…like…you know…with cream? Or whatever?”
Ninth, be neat. Set yourself apart more by your actions and manner than by flamboyant appearance. Follow the dress style of your superiors. If you are considering a tattoo, reconsider. Same with pink hair, nose rings and male earrings.
Tenth, watch your mouth. The casual cursing of the campus doesn’t always land happily on the ears of the boss. And, especially, save the f-bomb for the gym or the after-work bar.
In sum, school is over. Now, let’s go to work!
Kevin Ryan founded the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, where he is professor emeritus. He has written and edited 20 books. He has appeared on CBS’s “This Morning”, ABC’s “Good Morning America”, “The O’Reilly Factor”, CNN and the Public Broadcasting System speaking on character education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org