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Unsolicited advice to the young

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To say the least, the realities of the new American work place and our relaxed educational system have been lousy preparation for a job.

Kevin and Marilyn

The Bible pulls no punches. We have to work. Adam and Eve heard the bad news from the mouth of God. "By the sweat of your face you shall get bread to eat." Few jobs today require actual sweat, but we get the picture. St. Paul told the Thessalonians straight out: "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." However, today getting and keeping a good job is increasingly difficult.

Many young people are discovering that the welcome mat to a quality job and the middle class life is no longer there. On the other hand, there is a strong chorus of complaints by employers that the new crop of graduates "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 recent grad 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 20 years. Since the turn of the century, American business and industry have been struggling with cutthroat 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, they 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 high schools and colleges. About 40 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 on the side."

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 not being judgmental toward 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 work place and our relaxed educational system have been lousy preparation for a 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 effect 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 Internet 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 helping 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 and to follow instructions. 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 it than from praise.

Eighth, speak like an adult. 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 through your actions and manner rather than by flamboyant appearance.

Tenth, watch your mouth. The causal cursing of the campus doesn't always land happily on the ears of the boss. Save the f-bomb for the gym or the after-work bar.

In sum, school is over. Now, let's go to work!


Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.

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