Ineptitude: The Other Employment Crisis in America

On one hand we have an employment system that makes it next to impossible to get a job owing to the vast amounts of education, experience and specific pockets of knowledge required. We have an employment system where getting a job is based on how attractive you look, how you walk, the condition of your teeth, how young you are, not too old but not too young either, and moral judgments on legal activities you choose to fill your time with. On the other hand though, it appears we have an employment system where, when you need the right person for the job, when you need someone with a unique personality trait, such as compassion, caring or certain people skills, it seems anything goes. Lack of professional maturity and appropriate work behavior is not an obstacle to positions of authority and responsibility; lack of skills, licensures, knowledge and training make no difference in some of the most important places to the detriment of the public. Most instances are so egregious they leave shock, horror and outrage in their wake, causing people to wonder when and how things got so bad.

Case in point a toddler in Texas died after getting tangled in the family’s backyard soccer net; when the mother called 911 she was told 11 times to calm down, nothing more. No instructions were given on CPR; the parents are suing the city where this took place convinced that had she been given the steps of CPR her son would have lived. A broader investigation of this subject revealed that not only is this a problem in Texas, not only was the man answering a 911 dispatch phone not certified in CRP, trained in first aid, did not have any paramedic or EMT training, but that it is a similar case all over the nation. Like the case of the 6-year-old boy in the Northeast who was scolded for calling 911 when his mother passed out; the operator saying she was asleep. Turns out the mother had a heart attack, stroke or some form of medical emergency. One worker fell asleep manning the phone he was responsible for. Not only that, but in 18 states there are no standards what so ever for 911 dispatch personnel, no training; many states refuse to pay minimum wage, forcing them to hire fast food workers and ex cons. The tax we all pay on our phone bill for 911 services is often diverted to other things like roads.

Good morning America did a special in 2008 about the call center workers answering the phones for 1-800 Medicare, finding that the majority of the people couldn’t answer the most common questions at all others answered them and as well as critical, potentially life saving questions incorrectly. Social workers working for child services putting children into foster care or emergency placement to teach parents a lesson, regardless of the validity of the claim against them; persons in other branches didn’t know the difference between social security disability and supplemental security income. A vocational rehabilitation counselor, a division of at least one state’s department of education, did not know the requirements for someone to become a teacher in said state. Low-income housing developments and other community program workers unclear about their own paper work, uninformed about their own procedures. Job placement facility workers who don’t know how to do adequate cover letters, rèsumès, are as unfamiliar with job applications as the applicants themselves, sometimes more so.

We have teachers working with special needs children who are easily frustrated and apt to call them things like stupid or monster; we have teachers who are so secure in their job or so nonchalant about it that they openly tell students they are in it for the health benefits, nothing more. Others clearly show signs of having no business dealing with kids being inappropriately harsh with younger students, having exaggerated expectations of those in younger grades. As one parent put it “we have teachers I wouldn’t trust to take care of a goldfish never mind educate my child.” Older students often find themselves subject to humiliation, ridicule and even profanity at the hands of teachers who only seem to want to goad them into a fight or something that will earn disciplinary action. The number of students who have been molested by teachers, coaches and other school personnel keeps rising. Complete incompetence of school personnel is also a problem as highlighted by a Dr. Phil show that showcased multiple stories of children being picked up by the wrong people; one boy was told to go off with a complete stranger by his teacher. Luckily for the young man this was simply a grandfather sent to pick up his grandchild who got confused and took the wrong kid.

Mental health professionals have a long history of displaying as much mental instability and neurotic behavior as their patients, if not more. They have a history of abuses including experimentation and exploitation. Psychiatrists have been known to engage in sexual relationships with those under their care. Some seem to always be on a power trip with their patients threatening them, intimidating them even institutionalizing them unnecessarily. Mental health facilities themselves are little more than warehouses, orderlies and staff no more than wardens in a different kind of jail. Under medicating, over medicating or medicating for no reason at all happens right there in your shrinks office. Improper diagnosis happens more often than the correct one. And regrettably they are more popular than ever before. Of those who aren’t outright unstable, outright abusing their positions, there are those who are just plain bad at it, who lack compassion, empathy or sufficient listening skills to help their patients. Several miss a multitude of warning signs that point to a degradation of mental health that could mean a person is a danger to self or others; by that same token they miss several issues that indicate a specific diagnosis, to the determent of the patient.

It goes beyond the all important jobs that require special people and a unique set of skills to make a difference in the lives of those they come in contact with or in our world; this filters into our daily lives. Customer service has become a customer nightmare, often times customer beware; exemplified by a man featured on the Today show talking about a 20 minute recording he made chronicling what happened when he tried to cancel his unused internet service. And it wasn’t 10-15 minutes of automated menus, trying to reach a real person; it was 20 minutes of some pushy sales person trying to keep them on the phone, trying to badger them with questions about why they didn’t like it, why they were canceling, when the person was not unhappy with it simply did not use it anymore.

Customer service lines meant to distribute information are no better; it’s bad enough that America has outsourced most of this work to other countries so you get someone on the other end of the phone with an unintelligible accent. But with that outsourcing comes the added headache for the average person of answering nonsense questions, like the person calling about their cordless land line phone who was asked; do you have touch tone phone service? In another instance a person called about their malfunctioning cellphone only to get someone with a Jamaican sounding accent who told them to remove the battery from their phone; after repeated attempts to comply with the instructions and an accidental hang up, they called again to discover the phone had turned itself off due to a low battery and the instruction book failed to mention the need to hold down the power button for up to 2 minutes to turn it on or off.

Unfortunately we have all been treated to an in person customer service encounter we wish we’d never had; people who get snippy, people who act put out when asked to simply perform their job, people who have yelled and screamed, even used profanity with customers. When it’s not that it’s someone who is woefully lacking in knowledge of the products or services provided; one incident involved a person walking into an electronic store holding up an item stating they needed a replacement. Unbeknown to them it came in at least 2 kinds, but instead of the store representative asking which one they wanted or what they what functions it was used for, they simply handed the customer the one they could find on the shelf and sent them on their way.

Workplaces have become steadily more dangerous over the years; bypassing the headline making persons who have gone berserk in air traffic control, postal work, day trading, typical high stress jobs; even bypassing the outside threat of random gunmen running crazed through shopping malls, coffee shops, community centers, there is now an internal threat to workers. This either comes from bosses or coworkers, as was the case of Amy Bishop an Alabama professor who opened fire on a staff meeting after being denied tenure. We’ve all heard of the horrors that go on inside fast food restaurants, employees spitting in food, not washing their hands after restroom visits, the employees who were bathing in a sink meant for kitchen utensils, only caught and fired when they posted the video on-line. However there is a whole new danger, especially for younger workers; a 20/20 investigation revealed that teenage workers in some of the top fast food franchises were being sexually harassed, propositioned even raped by their bosses. The young lady who came forward about the goings on at a California Starbucks felt like the 24-year-old supervisor had complete control over her job, she saw it as doing what she had to do. At a McDonalds in the same state when a young woman was fondled fearing rape and went to another supervisor, they told her not to be so upset because everyone knew that particular shift supervisor was a pervert. A manager at a Tennessee Taco Bell pleaded guilty to raping 2 16-year-old employees. This is what our work places have become, another deterrent for young people to even attempt to find work.

Many theories can be formulated as to why there is so much ineptitude in the workplace, from lack of work ethic, to a me generation, to those without pride or values; for those of you who saw my piece last week, you saw the references to no job training, irrelevant interview questions and downright illegal practices, proving that ineptitude comes, or at least can come, from the top down. Another cause for the level of incompetence found in the workplace can be traced back to changing roles there in; supervisors and managers are no longer there to oversee what goes on within the work environment but have their own set of tasks related to budget meetings, quarterly and annual reports, growing whatever type of business it is, meeting with sponsors and business partners, coordinating events. The result, no one is paying attention to what employees are doing and certainly not monitoring mangers and those higher up.

Then we hear about the drunken or distracted pilots after they were caught in the air putting lives in danger, because in the latter case no one was in that cockpit saying no your not bringing your PC, your blackberry in here in accordance with the rules. We find out about the repeated warnings given to officials about Bernie Madoff’s suspected Ponzi scheme after he’s been getting away with it for decades and finally got caught, we find out one of the big banks being bailed out was falsifying records to qualify people for loans after the fact and after they were given the money. We find out about ACORN and their fraudulent voter registration files as well as multiple people in multiple offices advising a man and woman on how to sidestep the law and open a brothel this time after the latest illegality was caught on tape.

Why, because no one is paying attention; from a government standpoint white collar crime is seen as no crime or as victimless crime and therefore less important. Fair hiring practices and legal treatment of workers is assumed and therefore not monitored except in regards to physical health and safety issues, and OSHA being the government agency it is, has problems of its own. At most, effort put into non-physical health and safety problems in businesses has to do with immigrants, illegal or otherwise. And again it comes down to the everyday; anyone who has dialed a customer service or product line, advocacy agency is familiar with the phrase “this call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes.” Yet there appears to be no monitoring as a growing number of people find themselves in an increasing number of situations with individuals on the other end of the line with no clue or are irritating customers. AOL revised its policy after that man took his taped ordeal to the Today show, but it shouldn’t have taken an appearance in such a place to fix the problem.

Even when supervisors are charged with the responsibility of workplace function and assessment of employee behavior and competence, they don’t have time to fulfill that portion of their job due to all of the other things on their plate. As such, they are continually unavailable to answer new employee questions or any employee questions, leaving new employees to ask their coworkers or whoever is handy how to do portions of their job. And that may lead to bad information; further, lack of supervisor/managerial availability is how you get agencies where people are confused about their own paperwork, how you end up with people making horrendous mistakes and no one finding out about it until the damage is done.

When supervisors are available they are so pressed for time they miss things; like one new manager for a community program who received a call from someone who had signed up for a particular service and was told they needed to complete an information session. They told the manager they had completed said session and gave the month they did so; the manager stated they could not find any record of it but would ask their supervisor. Now reasonably the conversation between the two should have gone something like this: employee explains problem asks if there is another place to find records, and the supervisor, being fluent in agency policy, tells them they do not need older records the person needed to attend another information session, as people waiting for this service are periodically asked to do. What actually transpired was older record was found person told everything was fine; however, later someone caught on and the person was removed from the service’s waiting list for non compliance without notification, delaying the person getting the service they urgently needed.

And of course we have the irresponsible, unreliable or just plain bad supervisors; managers at fast food places are known for not being there and ducking out early, in part because they know no one is going to make sure they are there, the only person that’s going to look for them is a disgruntled customer, they would rather avoid on principle, or a job applicant who can be plied with a paper application or a website to do it on-line. In the case of the 20/20 investigation and the supervisor that told the young woman, in essence, everyone knows to stay away from him because he is a pervert, not only does it beg the question of how either supervisor was able to keep their job, but why on earth someone would let an individual know as a pervert supervise a shift containing teenage girls? To say nothing of how a 20 something got a managerial position in the first place; all age stereotyping aside, whether you’re 24 or 204 you still have to pass the litmus test of can you do the job, are you showing the workplace, professional maturity to have that level of authority?

Some human resources, personnel departments are so lax or disorganized that new employees don’t get put company on e-mail circuits until someone notices they’re not, they don’t know there is a code used to make long distance, business related phoe calls. In addition, one place didn’t inform a new employee about a significant portion of their job responsibility; so how on earth were they supposed to do it? Not only do we find out about the Alabama professor’s violent, possibly unstable past after a tragedy, but this is who we let teach young people just starting out in the real world. By that same token, there are people with criminal records working in schools, the kind of criminal record that dictates they are not worth the risk when it comes to kids. Mental health professionals, not unlike catholic priests or suspected hospital workers are allowed to shuffle from job and disclosures of allegations are hard to find unless they are charged with a crime.

Bottom line you have to have someone paying attention, you have to have someone whose job it is to monitor all jobs in a workplace environment, you have to take the time to conduct the type of background check required to insure the safety of the public in regards to the workers you have and the job they are performing. Does it honestly take an act of federal law to say you must have oversight in your own business? Nearly all of the cases presented here are things that should already be subject to scrutiny because they are state or government funded, yet it seems a perpetuating cycle of no one is making sure the job gets done. And supervising, overseeing, managing employees does not mean constantly standing over employees, wrecking their nerves. What it does mean is making sure you hire the right people or give them the right skills for the job; hiring retired physicians to work 911 dispatch phones, people with EMT or paramedic training, at the very least making sure those you do hire have first aid and CPR training. Both of which are relatively inexpensive, can be paid for by the city/state and simultaneously folded into the job training about policies, phone operation and techniques for dealing with distressed callers. It means checking references, asking about job performance of listed former employers to prevent the job-hopping mentioned in the above paragraph.

The kind of attention needed for all this means continual, random monitoring, taking the time to notice what is going on in your workplace, a passing glance, an alertness, from a supervisory point of view surely would have caught the man snoring at the phone station he was in charge of. Review the phone logs for customer service and product lines; people with the same problems, making the same mistakes don’t keep their jobs. If you keep finding customers cannot understand international accents maybe its time to in-source not outsource call center personnel. People yelling and snippy, profane with customers, lacking basic people skills don’t keep their jobs. People with the adequate licensures, education and experience that don’t appear to know things they should have picked up by now don’t keep their job. Just because it’s in a social service industry starving for workers doesn’t mean you get to hire people best characterized as walking office furniture. It is time we brought common sense and standards back to the American employment world.

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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