There's Us, Them, And Then There's The Other, Revisited.

In 2017, Grand River Transit here in the Region of Waterloo nearly went on strike, but a tentative agreement was reached at the last minute.

Negotiations this time around didn’t go as well: the union went on strike January 21st, 2020 for 11 days.

While the LRT was still running (it’s not operated by Grand River Transit), the strike has impacted me greatly. For gigs that are within range of the LRT stations, I had to walk up to 30 minutes. To get home, I had to walk 40 minutes from one station. My job search has to target only those businesses near the LRT in case I’m called in for an interview.

This is why I once pinned a blog post describing what happened back then, and the impact of what would have happened if the strike did happen.

It’s also why I made this comic to remind once again there’s a third party in any strike involving essential services that gets hurt the most, and always loses even after the strike is over.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Food For Thought

There will be some people who won’t see a table like this over the Christmas holidays. This includes, shockingly, those who are gainfully employed. Source: Wikimedia Commons Image Library, with all rights given to the owner of the image. ()

Many look to the unemployment rate as an indicator of how well our war on poverty is progressing.

The unemployment rate is a percentage of the labour force that is actively seeking work. It does not track those who have given up. It does not track those who are paid “under the table”. It does not track underemployment. It does not track employment disparity (where individuals are working either full- or part-time but not in the field he or she is trained in).

In short, it makes the erroneous assumption — a somewhat dangerous one at that — that to be simply working is to be okay. As long as one is earning a paycheque, the necessities of life — rent and food — are easily covered.

As reported in the following article, that reasoning is not necessarily a slam-dunk.

Despite having a job, citizens are going to food banks because apparently the paycheque is not enough to cover the grocery bills.

I’ve heard it argued that this is because people can simply walk in and get free food. On the surface, the reasoning seems sound: in the Region of Waterloo and also in the Greater Toronto Area, you don’t need to prove you are low income to access food banks.

In fact, I just finished having a phone conversation with someone about that very topic. Apparently a resident in her building goes to a food bank yet can afford an apartment of $1300 a month, drives a car, and has a watch that does far more than tell the time.

I don’t even have a watch that just tells the time. I consider it a superfluous expense. To me, food, transit and my teeth are more important.

Getting back on track, if this argument WAS true, the food bank system would be raided to chronic levels of scarcity. There are stock shortages, yes, but not like locusts going through a crop field.

No, the problem here is the assumption — by those who think all you got to do to keep out of poverty “is get off your lazy ass and find a job” — is that things don’t go up in price over time.

The average worker’s income has not kept up in lockstep with ever increasing costs, such as rent/mortgage , grocery, transit, gas, medical, dental, and prescription glasses. In the case of some individuals, income has not gone up, period, for a number of years. I recall during my IT career there was one year at Grolier Limited and two years at SANYO Canada where I didn’t even get a cost of living raise.

The minimum wage rate in most provinces of Canada have barely budged over the past decade. Ditto for social assistance and disability as well — in some cases, qualifications for receiving both have been tightened and coverage periods have been shortened in the name of government austerity.

Look, I won’t deny the fact there are people who cheat food banks. I even stated during my aforementioned phone conversation with someone they really should screen better to block the cheaters.

Having said this, there’s a fair argument to be made that there’s indeed a wealth distribution problem, and part of that problem concerns the ability of the working poor and the unemployed to afford food to put on the table. If there is even one employed person who is going to food banks because it’s just not enough, that’s one person too many in my book.

Thanks for reading!

David.

A Basic Need Priced As A Luxury Item.

When something loses its meaning, it also loses its importance. From a box just outside the Giant Tiger store on Margaret Avenue n Kitchener, Ontario

I sometimes wonder why society puts so little effort on resolving social issues like homelessness. It’s a no-brainer: each of us needs a place to stay safe and warm at night or end up sick if not dead in time. That fact will never change no matter how advanced our technology becomes or how products and services become more prolific and convenient. Despite this, I’m still amazed at the apathy shown addressing this.

Sometimes the answer is hiding in plain sight.

I regularly visit a paperbox that offers a free magazine containing available job listings. While the ROI going through this magazine sucks worse than maple through a straw, I go through it in the hope of finding something, and also show people I’m considering all avenues in my job search.

In the rack above that magazine is one occupied by 4Rent.ca, which is an apartment rental listing magazine that is also free to take. I took the one listed in the picture and perused through the ads. I wasn’t looking for a place to stay: I currently have a place to say. Something in my gut told me to take a gander. What I found confirmed a lament often expressed in my videos on YouTube and here on my blog:

“I find it appalling that a basic need – shelter – is priced like a luxury item”.

That’s a truth, not an exaggeration. Both renting and owning a home these days requires not one but two salaries to maintain, and is considerably worth more than the cost of an expensive car or a world cruise.

One would think that exorbitantly pricing one of the three basic needs — shelter, food, water — would be one of the worst sins imaginable. I mean, this is not a video game console, a flat screen smart TV, or glamorous clothes we are talking about and which we can do without. If a person does not have a place to stay, the chances of that person surviving drops faster than the career of a one-hit wonder band.

Shelter is essential to life.

Yet, in this magazine, descriptive phrases similar to the following found on 4Rent.ca’s home page appear:

“Conveniently located at Steeles and Hurontario, Kaneff’s twin white towers…”
“Feel the sophistication the moment you walk into the elegant lobby of 18 Brownlow….”
“Realstar’s Towns on the Ravine redefines premium rental living in North York….”
“Live in an exclusive neighbourhood with easy access to all the amenities…”

“Premium living”, “elegant”, and “exclusive”. Flowery descriptive phrases used to describe a consumer product or service. Compare that to the dictionary definitions found for the word “house”:

(noun) “…a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people.”
(verb) “… provide (a person or animal) with shelter or living quarters.”

No marketing blurb, no glossy ad, or commercial on radio or on television will ever use the above definitions in their pitch. Never the phrases “Guaranteed to keep your belongings safe from theft!”, “Works hard to keep you dry from the rain!”, or “Ensures you get a good night’s sleep on a cold wintry night!” shall ever be read in any rental or realty advert.

In just 30,000 years, shelter has transformed from being a means of protection from predators and the elements for Man during hunting and gathering expeditions to an over-expensive consumer product that requires pretty pictures and words such as the ones used in the embedded image in order to be sold. You know, like the iPhone, BMW, Guess? Jeans, and other useless things we can do without.

The moment the word “shelter” lost its meaning is when the importance of securing such for all, without opposition and without question, also disappears.

Thanks for reading!

David.

That Age Old Question

Who doesn’t want discounts? Ah, but be careful for what you wish for, because even discounts come with a price!

Apparently I’m a senior.

Well, according to my local Rexall Drug Store, I am.

I picked up a few things on my way home from the library, and was asked by the cashier if I was a senior.

I didn’t get mad when asked. My current lack of stable employment and constant address hopping is stressful. As I pointed out in a previous writing, stress can prematurely age an individual. I will admit I look older than my actual age.

I smiled and politely said, “I’m not 65”. The cashier then told me that both Rexall and Shopper’s Drug Mart offer a senior’s discount to anyone 55 and over

Well, does David want to save money on his expenses? Yep! David’s a senior, then!

While saving money is never a bad thing, there is another side to this anecdote to consider. I wouldn’t have been asked by the cashier if I was a senior if I didn’t look the part.

A casual rewind of past events in recent memory has brought to my attention a few things that indicate the cashier was not the only one who took notice of my age.

For example, over the last two years I’ve been asked fairly often by fellow transit riders if I would like to have their seat. While I have no trouble standing while taking the bus and still go on very long walks to keep in shape, I took the seat with thanks out of courtesy and to reinforce positive behaviour.

If I accidentally bump into someone or commit some other social faux pas, even when clearly it’s my fault, I appear to receive a pass on that more often. “Oh, no worries, buddy!” one might say. “You didn’t do anything wrong, sir!”, chirps a polite student. Well, yes, yes I did. I bumped into someone because I misjudged my distance.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea society still has some respect for the elderly old age-challenged those with a few years on them. How society treats that age group is one indicator of how close society is to being a dystopia.

The concern I have is this heightened sense of awareness to my current appearance may also be present in the minds of interviewers and others who I interact with in my job search. “Is he a senior?” each might ask.

A question asked not to give me a discount, but to be discounted for potential opportunities of employment which, as mentioned in another post, is clearly discriminatory and based on false reasoning.

Thanks for reading!

David.

The Wanting Need

Sorry, custodians, but your position is one very few people want to do. Source: clipartmag.com

Two weeks ago, I was returning from a cleaning assignment when I decided to stop at a Tim Horton’s along the way for some coffee and to catch up on my Email.

There were three individuals from a security company (which shall remain nameless) — two men and a woman — set up at a dining table to interview candidates for a security guard position.

Before I continue, I use the term “interview” loosely because I’ve exchanged introductions with people that lasted longer than these interviews. Each interviewee, all who waited at another dining table, would walk over to these three to answer a few questions for a few minutes, then depart to let another amble over and repeat the process.

That’s not what stood out the most in my mind about these interviews. It was a question asked by one of the men to those who never worked in the security field before.

“So why do you want to be a security guard?”

What a nonsense question to ask. No one wants to be a security guard.

Before any of you reading starts writing nasty remarks in the comments form, hear me out.

To use a young person’s vernacular, “‘When I grow up, I want to be a security guard’, said no one ever.”

People want to be doctors. People want to be astronauts. People want to be police officers. People want to be systems administrators. People want to be relief-workers in the Third World.

No one wants to be a security guard. No one wants to be a dockworker. No one wants to be a telemarketer. No one wants to be a stock-person. No one wants to be a secretary. There is absolutely nothing life-fulling in working at these jobs.

I’m not saying these jobs are unimportant. Every position in an organization must be filled in order for the collective whole to function smoothly. You can’t load a ship full of consumer products without dockworkers. You can’t drum up business without telemarketers. The property and assets of a business (especially a bank) are ripe for theft without security guards.

It’s just that some positions are dull and boring chores. Everyone has had at least one such job and understands the joy felt at the end of that job’s workday. It’s not laziness to admit freely, “I’d rather be doing something else but I do need the money.”

I will admit there are exceptions to my argument. A person passionate about a product line or a social cause will sign up to be a telemarketer to back it. An extrovert who loves talking to people might find something enjoyable in dealing with people as a secretary. Someone who enjoys throwing their weight around within a legal framework of authority — and who is physically built to do so — will find some fun in security work.

The above, however, are rarities, not the rule.

We live in a capitalistic society. Everything costs money, even basic needs like food, shelter, and heat. That is why people do these jobs.

We are also creatures driven by base psychological wants and needs. I want to go on vacation, I need to mow the lawn. I want to ask Helen out for a date, I need to help Jack move into his new place. I want to watch “Avengers: Endgame”, I need to finish my report for the boss or I’m going to be in big heck.

Does that make sense now? That’s why the above question is a nonsense question.

It also puts the applicant in a position to have to lie in order to be hired. Falsifying credentials is a no-no, according to every employment assistance center case worker I’ve worked with in the past during my job search.

Thanks for reading!

David.

I Can’t Relate To This

Is buttering people up the new way to get ahead in the workplace?

“Relationship Currency.”

I’ve come across this term a few times while reading articles related to job-searching.

According to the originator of this term — Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley — relationship currency is a form of social pull in the workplace that is obtained through “spending time with people in your organization, getting to know them, sharing ideas with them, or working with them on internal task forces and other company projects.”

According to Harris, relationship currency is a skill that is overlooked in favour of performance currency — your past track record in getting the job done and your level of expertise in your chosen field. She also adds that it can open avenues of opportunity to get things done at work that performance currency and job authority cannot.

How does one build relationship currency? In an article stressing the importance of relationship currency, she used an example of “chatting with others about the firm, a recent movie, their families, …..outside interests”. Small talk, in other words.

Small talk is nothing new. I remember as far back in my teenage years when I worked at the Eglinton Theatre in Toronto shooting the breeze with fellow ushers and confections staff. What is new is how this is to be used in the workplace. Here is an example from her article of how she did this in her workplace:

“….my manager would decide to make some last-minute changes to the client presentation that was due in, let’s say, three hours. I would hurry down to the word processing department, only to find a long queue in place and an estimated five-hour turnaround time at best.

While I did not do it often, if the situation was really dire I would ask my word processing colleagues if they would make an exception for me and move our presentation ahead in the queue. They helped me meet my manager’s deadline every single time. Why? Because we had a relationship. Had I not spent the time getting to know them, I would have been just another associate asking for my work to be done first. “

I don’t know about you, but reading this made me a little uncomfortable. I would hate to be one of the word processing colleagues being asked to make that exception. It makes me uncomfortable because, during my early years in my I.T. career when I was a computer operator, I remember fellow employees coming up to me to call in favours of having extra time on the system when I had to perform a backup, and they used this very technique in order to do this. Later on in my career there were times some users wanted access to specific menu options without going through the authorization approval process, again using our familiarity as grease to work the procedural gears to their advantage.

Look, I get how important it is to be able to get along with people. Sometimes getting to know people better beyond the title does help with in a team initiative, like a systems migration project or an emergency situation.

It also makes the workplace a less toxic environment. I have to use all my fingers and toes to count the number of employees I’ve known who were good at their job but lousy people to deal with. I knew a programmer who was a genius coder but was socially inept. In my last full time job we had a PC whiz kid who partied too much and came to work looking like Keith Richards on a bender. In that same full-time position I’ve dealt with managers who attempted to bully me into getting their help-desk requests done first and who I had to complain to HR about. These people had the skill and the talent to do their job but were a liability in the end because, let’s face it, their behaviour sucked more than a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

Having said this, there’s a line in the sand I personally will not cross for the sake of good relations. This includes using social hacks to bypass the organizational chart, violate standard operating procedures at both the departmental and company levels, or use an emotional play just to do my job. There are other avenues, other channels available that employees can use if they are having trouble getting things done. Sometimes all it takes is fixing something that is broken in procedure, or a problem employee HR can have a word with.

In case my point hasn’t been understood, take a moment to read another excerpt from her article:

“This is powerful currency. It takes the goodwill and leverage that exists in one relationship and positively influences the trajectory of a new connection.

In other words, it’s a subtle form of using people to get ahead in one’s profession.

I have never needed to take that approach with others in my twenty years in I.T. nor will I allow someone to do that to me.

The fact I’ve been out of full time work for so long, have been in a homeless shelter, and am struggling to return back to financial self-sustainability has not made me willing to break that policy. I prefer to work with people, not work on people.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Double Vision


When looking for work, it’s important to read in-between the lines of any job ad, and be sensitive to cues that serve as warning signs not to apply there.

Before I apply for any position, I take the time to examine not only the written details about the opening, but also other things not mentioned but still noticed.

I came across the following post in the KitchenerWorks Facebook group, used by jobseekers like myself as part of their search for work:

“Since it seems impossible to get people in for interviews or even find people who want to work, I’ll try social media out.” 

As you’ve noticed in the ad, the place is in Cambridge. Where I live right now, that’s a two hour bus route just to get there — on a good day. Even by car (if I had one), it’s still a lengthy commute one way. Imagine what it would be like as a round-trip.

Right off the top, that eliminates the night shift hours mentioned.

There’s also some heavy physical work in the description. It’s not explicitly mentioned but general labour, saw-cutting, and receiving require physical fitness and endurance. Is that something I can do in my mid-fifties? Possibly. Sixties? Not so sure.

Then we get to the things NOT mentioned where your gut instinct can be as useful as Spider-Man’s Spidey Sense. Read the line below before continuing on in this post:

” If you don’t have experience in the position, we will do the proper training.”

At first glance, that sounds pretty good. I’ve previously ranted in this blog about credential creep and lack of on-the-job training doing away with entry-level positions. That opinion has not changed. There should be more entry-level jobs for people who have no work-experience but want to start somewhere.

What has also not changed is my belief that not every job can be learned on-the-fly.

Some jobs require training and education in order to hold a position in that field. I.T. work, my past career, is one of them. So is handling machinery that could injure you if you’re not careful: hydrostatic testing, sandblasting, computer numerical control and lathe work, and saw cutting.

These things should never be learned on the job. You go to a trade school or an apprenticeship program to get formal training, and on successful completion are given a document that certifies you to be competent and not a danger to anyone.

I would never have faith working with another programmer in a large business who learned how to code for the first time from a “Teach Yourself ABAP/4 in 24 hours” book. In the case of dangerous machinery operation, I wouldn’t feel safe working with anyone without certified training. Maybe that’s paranoia or overprotectiveness on my part, but it is my call to ensure my workplace safety needs are met.

The final point that prompted me not to apply is the most telling of all, found in the first quote near the top of the post. The comment that people who do not apply do not want to work. That is such a arrogant and inaccurate reason of the person’s failure to find a hire, and also an unfair characterization of people who are looking for work. It gives me the impression that person is easily upset and frustrated.

I would love to tell this person three things about job seekers that are accurate and fair:

  1. Job seekers want to work. That’s why I and other job seekers get up early every morning and apply for positions.
  2. Job seekers don’t want to waste their time applying for work they are not qualified to do. We don’t want to just get hired, we want to stay hired for as long as possible.
  3. Job seekers also don’t want to waste the time of the interviewer. The interviewer does not want to sift through a sea of unqualified applicants in order to find someone who is qualified. They have limited time to find a fit and usually have to do this in addition to their regular work-day duties. Consider it a courtesy of sorts, if at least not common sense, when some of us decide not to apply.

Thanks for reading!

David.