It may not be accurate to call a computer a machine, but it seems like computers will soon operate every machine in the world. The internet isn’t a machine, but I would be lost without it. I own a hybrid car, and a few years ago I parked it in the airport parking lot for several days, and when I returned it wouldn’t start. I called Triple A and when the truck arrived the young man told me he never jumped a hybrid car before, and he wasn’t sure what to do. Before he could call his office, my wife had a video from YouTube on her computer and she taught him how to jump-start my car. He was embarrassed, but we got our car running.
Computers and automation are a blessing and a curse. Ninety percent of the career-related articles that appear on my computer screen are about how technology is affecting the job market. All right already, I get it. But there is another side to this story.
I recently read an article that the executive director of the Arc of Seneca Cayuga is retiring, and his perspective on work is a breath of fresh air. Kevin Smith got into the business of helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities because he believes they deserve an equal opportunity to enjoy life. During new staff orientation, Kevin tells his new staff members, “Understand you’re working at an organization where you have the ability to impact somebody’s life.” Kevin gets it. It’s not about crunching numbers or building houses; they have the ability to impact somebody’s life.
I’m concerned that in the process of collecting more material possessions we sometimes lose track of what is most important. Thousands of careers are in the business of helping people. There are obvious examples such as teaching and nursing, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
We recently encountered a fantastic waitress at the Deluxe Restaurant in Geneva who loves her job because she enjoys the people she serves. It’s not about the food and cleaning tables, she literally has made dozens of friends who return and enjoy catching up on what’s happening in the community. She told me she never thinks about retiring because she’ll miss all her friends.
Los Primeros School in California recognized the exceptional efforts of a particular janitorial staff member dedicated to helping the students and teachers. His smile is contagious and the students and staff love him. Yes, his job is not very glamorous, but he goes out of his way to greet the kids with a smile, and the students appreciate the fact he has their best interests at heart. Just like our favorite waitress, he gets up in the morning and looks forward to visiting and encouraging everyone involved in creating a positive culture for the kids. He gets it — it’s all about the people. Check out his video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV6XHEFsGRo.
The April 30 edition of the New York Times ran an article: “People Who Train Robots (to Do Their Jobs).” What was encouraging is the six people interviewed chose to emphasize how the computers gave them more time to provide personalized service to their customers. They acknowledged that computers can perform mundane tasks more quickly, but this created more time to provide better service to the people they serve. A travel agent described how she now has time to contact clients during their vacation to help them purchase tickets for events and ensure they are aware of site-seeing opportunities they may have otherwise missed. Providing a more personalized approach is the part of the job she enjoys the most and something the computer can’t do.
We sometimes need to remind ourselves that much of what we do has a direct impact on people. The janitor understands he is part of a bigger picture that provides a safe environment for the kids. His smile and dedication creates a positive culture for everyone in the building. We can start with just one day (tomorrow) and share a smile with co-workers and the people we serve, right? Those #$%^ computers can’t do that.
Bill Kaminski is president of Stone Associates Training. He is an HR consultant with 35 years of experience in the employment field, teaching managers the art of hiring great employees. Bill is also an adjunct instructor at Keuka College. You can contact Bill with questions, suggestions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.