Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

'The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few', is a well quoted verse, but never before has it been so relevant than in our world today. Do note that this quote does not state 'the people are few', no, it states emphatically that the 'workers' or 'labourers' are few. There are always plenty of people around, but, it seems, never enough ready and willing to work diligently enough to achieve the bringing in of the harvest, efficiently, reliably, economically and in a timely manner. It appears increasingly rare to find any leader of industry to be confident of their human capital resources. It appears that much of the lack of growth in the economies of the world is directly linked to finding the right calibre of worker, or trainee ready to learn what it takes.

In aviation the needs are very specific, the training expensive, the lead time from 'start to useable' long, and the number of people ready to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed in the industry 'few'. Airbus and Boeing have full order books, there is the constant need for qualified personnel at all levels, from the cargo handlers to the 'honey dippers' from the pilots to the air traffic controllers. All the same, those willing to WORK in their position are, it seems, increasingly few. A lot of the challenges appear to be related to the 'attitude to work'.

What makes a good worker? One who is timely, willing, reliable, honest, ready to learn, happy to be at work, pleasant to work with, knowledgeable, ready to share their skills and knowledge, and I am sure that we can all add to our list of 'good worker qualities'. Now that we have that list, how many of them apply to ourselves? Hmmm! That is more of a challenge! Perhaps it is a worthwhile exercise to give a list of qualities to your staff or colleagues, and ask them to rate the 'importance of each skill' from 1 to 5. Then, ask each of them to rate themselves in each of the qualities using the same scale. Finally, ask them to rate each other! It will, without doubt, quickly emerge that 'good workers' are hard to come by.

I think that, for me, the five most important attributes of a good worker are 'honesty', 'timely', 'cheerful', 'pleasant to work with' and 'willing to learn'.

There is nothing worse than working with somebody you cannot trust. They say one thing, and then do another. They ignore you when you speak, leaving you wondering what is going on in their heads. They fail to make eye contact with you, and you are left wondering if they are ready to respond in an emergency - or will they be a liability in such a scenario.

Timeliness is critical to the success of any operation. There is nothing worse than being ready to roll, and waiting for the person who is walking slowly up the road, knowing full well that they are behind schedule, not giving a hoot about who it affects. I admit, we are all late at times, but the 'timely' person will be seen to be trying to make the deadline, even if they have issues with transport or personal challenges. Making the effort to be timely is the first step towards achieving it. Of course, in the West African context, timeliness is a challenge - yet the mobile phone goes, so often, unused to express to those waiting that 'one is running late'.

A cheerful worker is wonderful thing. I hate the poo-poo faced workers. C'mon people, we have to work, so lets be cheerful about it. It may be a smelly job, but it is a job, we have a harvest to get in, and we can do it with our chins in our boots, or our smiles at our eyes. I know which one is the most pleasant to work with, and I know which one is more likely to get rewarded by management as well as co-workers. At the toll booths in Ghana it is rare to get a big smile and a 'thank you', but when you do it lifts you up for the whole day! Imagine how much more the workers in offices and factories can improve the working conditions, if they stop complaining and start rejoicing at having work, and the opportunity to do it cherfully!

When you work with somebody who is ready to learn, it is fantastic. They want to absorb knowledge, to better themselves, to make progress in their personal understanding of their work and the world in general. When you have a colleague who is not interested in learning any new tasks or even just some general knowledge, it is depressing. We all have the capacity to learn more - to understand more - but when you find a 'closed vessel' you realise that you are wasting your time investing in them.

These are only a few attributes of the 'worker of merit', but even with just these five, success should be just around the corner. Ah, what does that mean? It takes years to build confidence, gain knowledge and climb the tree of life. So many workers lack the skill of patience and expect everything to come to them 'now now now'. It does not work that way. It takes many years of working at the bottom of the tree before you can rise up a few branches. One thing is certain though, and that is 'a positive, honest and hardworking worker, will climb quicker than others'. 

Back to our 'honey dipper'. You may not know what 'the honey dipper' is in aviation. The honey dipper is the person who empties the toilet waste tanks on the airliners. It is, without doubt, one of the least glamorous jobs in the industry. Here is a conversation that, reportedly, took place at one airport.

Consultant: 'I am carrying out an employee satisfaction survey. How do you enjoy your job?'

HoneyDipper (with a big smile on their face): 'The pay is really bad. The hours are unsociable. I get covered in other peoples waste products. I go home smelling bad at the end of the day. I don't even get any perks from the airlines.'

Consultant (wafting the air in front of their nose): 'If it is that bad, why don't you quit?'

HoneyDipper (looking at a 747 taking off and smiling as his eyes track the metal bird across the sky): 'WHAT! Give up working in aviation? You have to be joking, I get paid to be around things that I love, and I help to ensure that every airline passenger has a pleasant flight. Change jobs? You have to be crazy!'

How we look at our employment changes how we work. Working in something that pleases us above seeking financial reward is key. Perhaps with a better outlook the real, worthwhile, workers would be many more.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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