Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A young, twenty-something office worker with a prep school background and a college degree – who got her job through a friend of her father’s – went home crying to her mother after her boss gave her a bad review. His criticisms? The young woman was always late for work, didn’t get her assignments done on time, and generally had a lousy attitude. The mother called the boss to complain, explaining that he wasn’t being fair, underestimated her daughter, and could hurt her budding career with his bad review. This, of course, is wrong on so many levels as to be laughable. What’s even more horrifying is…it’s a true story. (As for the boss, well, he reminded the woman that her daughter was no longer in school and that there was no such thing as a parent-boss conference in corporate America).
I don’t know what parents are teaching their kids about hard work, paying your dues, and discipline these days, but if this is any indication, we’re all in trouble. And yet, for some reason, when we as a society discuss the topic of work ethic, our criticism is almost always focused on the Working Poor. Why? Is it because they lack the protection of social networks and overprotection of doting but misguided parents, making them an easy target? Or is it because so many myths and misconceptions whirl about them, clouding the issue and hindering their chances at success? David Shipler, author of the seminal work, The Working Poor: Invisible in America challenged some of the conventional wisdom surrounding this population, claiming that while “…It is difficult to find someone whose poverty is not somehow related to his or her unwise behavior…” it is also “difficult to find behavior that is not somehow related to the inherited conditions of being poorly provided for…(poorly parented, poorly educated, poorly housed)”. It is the proverbial Catch-22 leading to the inevitability of critical educational and social skill gaps; gaps, which can ultimately determine one’s success or failure in the working world where everything matters (work ethic, diligence, attitude, self-expression…). Some of the Working Poor succeed despite the gaps. Some fill in the gaps as they go. Others, for whom the struggle is daunting, understandably give up after reaching a breaking point brought on by setback after setback. The fact of the matter is, one size does not fit all and that goes as equally for the Have Nots as the Haves.
Take the women who apply to Caroline Center’s Workforce Development program, for example. These women have what it takes to succeed: an eagerness to learn, a commitment to hard work, and tremendous will power. They are willing to do what many of us could never see ourselves doing in a million years. Like working 2 jobs at minimum wage while going to school full time. Like taking three busses to get anywhere. Rain or shine. Like coming home at 11PM after a full day of school and a full day of work on the late shift. Like spending the next three hours studying before getting up at dawn to do it all over again. Many of the Caroline Center women have the value of a work ethic instilled in them by a mother who did the same sort of things for them. Others have found a drive and discipline deep within themselves. Still, there are a million little pointers that might have been missed along the way or never been taught at all. Shipler’s solution is to tackle the causes of poverty and its attendant skill gaps holistically, which is the same approach Caroline Center takes in everything it does. That’s why, from the first day of class through graduation, the women of Caroline Center are reminded of all the little things that are just as important as doing one’s job well. Here are just a few of the pearls of wisdom the staff imparts to the women:
Early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.
It is the first lesson the women are taught. And they are held to it.
Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.
A reminder that they are still novices, even after graduation. And the best way to get ahead is to keep learning.
No drama. No drama. No drama.
A reminder to be professional at all times.
My favorite is one Sr. Patricia tells the women the day before they head out for their week-long internships in the real world.
“If your boss tells you you can take a 15-minute break, how long should you take?” Sr. Patricia asks the women. To some, it sounds like a trick question. Others raise their hands eagerly, confident of their answer.
“15 minutes!” shouts one, as if to say, “And not one minute longer!” certain that must be the point of the lesson.
“10 minutes,” Sr. Patricia counters. “You take 10 minutes. Why? Because you’re there to work and you don’t want your boss to have to come looking for you or wonder if you’re going to come back. If he or she gives you 15 minutes…you take 10. Got it?”
“Got it!” the women chime in together. And they do. They get it.
And because they do, their chances of success just increased exponentially. And because they do, they deserve every opportunity to succeed.
Everything matters. Including you. Help the women of Caroline Center succeed. Click here to find out how.