Attitude adjustment needed by your demanding, miseducated workers
Chicago Independent Media Alliance
Loop North News

Howard Tullman

We are creating a generation of highly-demanding if largely miseducated workers. Taking on this crew means you’ll have to change their attitudes about work before anything else. Or you could let someone else do that first.

23-Dec-18 – By and large, we’re doing a pretty lousy job of preparing our college graduates for the hard knocks and harsh realities that they’re going to face as they leave school.

Unfortunately, too much time and money are being spent by employers remediating the fundamental deficiencies in basic reading, writing, and communication skills of many of these kids when they walk through the doorway for their first grown-up job.

Nor are we teaching them the new collar skills and strategies that they’re going to need to survive and succeed in the future. They’re going to require an entrepreneurial mindset, critical curiosity, team-building talents, design and innovation skills, a commitment to change, and a bias toward action.

These shortcomings are a much bigger problem for startups than they are for established companies because, in a new venture, it’s critical that the newbies hit the ground running. No one else really has the time to hold their hand. In a big business, it can take quite a while before anyone figures out that you suck. That’s one of the reasons that I tell my portfolio companies to focus on hiring well-trained people with a few years of actual experience – especially for technical positions – rather than freshly-minted grads.

And if you steal them from one of the tech giants, that’s even better because they will have a pretty impressive base of knowledge and an appreciation for documentation and process rather than seat-of-the-pants spaghetti code.

But I’m even more worried about the attitudinal problems of the upcomers than about their skills and aptitude.


After all, you can teach a willing student just about anything, but you can’t rewire their heads if they’re starting out from the wrong place.

We must blame their parents just as much as their professors for these problems. Nothing’s tougher today than the rocky transition from the cloistered and comfortable world of college and helicopter parents to the real world and its increasingly unforgiving working environment, where absolutely everything we used to take for granted is going away or already gone. When everyone and everything is under pressure and in a hurry, there’s less and less time to demonstrate what you can do – or could do if you were given the opportunity and some realistic runway.

But these days you rarely get a second chance – or sometimes even half a chance – to make a first impression. It isn’t fair; it is a fact. There may be a shortage of terrific tech talent in some areas but there are also plenty of well-qualified people running right behind you and competing for the best jobs.

Smart employers, especially in rapidly-growing companies, aren’t interested in reasons, rhetoric, or rationalizations. They’re simply looking for swift and sustainable results. You get paid for what you can do, not what you allegedly know.

All this talk about warm and wonderful work environments with the awesome perks is great PR and a decent recruitment tool, but it doesn’t mean a thing when the rubber meets the road. There’s no time to worry about “privilege and politics” when you’re being pounded by problems every day and management is praying for a path to profitability.

No one’s telling these kids the facts of life. Instead, the media insists on painting a rosy picture of how the world just can’t wait to suit their preferences and predilections and to happily attend to their every need to be coddled and cajoled into doing us the great favor of working for us. But that’s only if the work is an exciting experience, a worthwhile adventure, and chock full of plants, pizzas, and other pleasantries. And then only for a while.

No job safe from automation

As a result of this misinformation blitz, there’s a growing gap in the attitudes, abilities, and aspirations of our graduates as they set out to try to make their way in a world of radical and constant change, accelerating automation, and dramatically altered expectations. They’re being primed for a world where automation and new technologies are supposed to enable them to leapfrog over all the dumb and boring jobs right into all the fun stuff.

Since automation is going to eliminate millions of entry-level jobs, we all seem to think that this is a good thing overall because those jobs are supposed to be menial, mindless, and redundant. Let the machines, bots, and robots do those repetitive and rote tasks – which they’re better at than we are – so we can all be free to do interesting, creative, and stimulating new jobs. Sounds great. Sign me up.

But the math doesn’t work. To buy into this BS, you must try your best to ignore the clear numbers, which suggest that the overall reduction in jobs in some industries – retail, call centers, warehousing, manufacturing, trucking – is going to be in the millions.

Assembly line robots

We have no idea what all these people, with very few transferable skills, are going to do for the remaining decades of their working lives. Believe me, the gig economy isn’t going to save them. People working for peanuts isn’t a solution to anything.

And don’t take any comfort from the fact that the first jobs to go are blue collar, because the automation, A.I., and machine learning trends will eventually extend into higher and higher skill levels and into the very areas where the new grads aspire to work. We already have robo-financial advisors, tele-medicine bots, and machines that do a better, faster, and more accurate job reading x-rays than any radiologist.

I keep hearing this talk about how the jobs may go away but the work remains and still needs to get done, but I don’t even understand what this means. The truth is that the few relatively low-level jobs that remain ten years from now will be those that need to be done by humans because they’re too menial to waste expensive and intelligent robots on.

Fewer life lessons with loss of entry-level positions

As we eliminate all these entry-level positions, the most critical loss is our ability to quickly graft onto our graduates all the life lessons, social skills, and values that you learn from doing all these crappy jobs in the first place. There’s still a great deal to be said for paying your dues. It’s not about what you’re doing in these early days, it’s all about how you go about doing it that tells everyone else the story.

You discover that every job is important and that each can be done with professionalism and dignity. Filing and sorting isn’t fun, but it teaches you the importance of paying attention to the details and sweating the small stuff. You meet and develop friendships and connections with “friends in low places” and they will be assets and helpful to you for many years after. You quickly learn that the doorman knows a lot more important information about what really goes on in the place than many of the dorks who ignore him every day or treat him like a doormat.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

And, maybe most of all, when you enter a culture with a serious work ethic and a commitment to quality and caring, these strengths can quickly become your own as well.

You understand and appreciate that you’re not entitled to anything that you don’t work for. That there are no shortcuts worth taking or tricks of the trade to speed your journey to the top.

And that, over time and with a lot of practice and preparation – and after you’ve mastered the preferred way to do things – if you’re lucky, you’ll earn the right to do things your own way.

You can’t learn this stuff by parachuting into the fifth floor and embarking on some make-believe job like head evangelist, chief storyteller, culture curator, or head of heart. You learn it in the trenches along with the behavior boundaries, the surmountable barriers, and the guard rails which will help you to eventually belong, believe, and prosper.

Because, at the end of the day, if you don’t put the time and work into something, you’ll never appreciate what it’s worth.

By Howard Tullman | Loop North News |

Published 23-Dec-18 2:44 AM

Loop North News


What’s news in the Loop and Near North neighborhoods of downtown Chicago.

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