“What.” She said, eyes never leaving her keyboard.
The TSA, JFK, Delta (or some other combination of letters representing a corporation associated with New York’s largest airport) rep clanked her fingers on the dirty plastic instrument that allowed her to divert her attention away from me, from any passenger, any person. She didn’t bother to pose it as a question as she had no intention of being helpful. She was “busy.”
This disdainful attitude, represented in just one innocuous word, was rampant throughout the entire process of getting on a plane out of New York. And it characterizes much of what passes for customer service today, particularly in New York, capital of attitude.
Customer service is the largest industry in many parts of this country, and it is virtually the only industry available for people at the beginning, or bottom, of the labor market. The irony then, is that for many young people, including exalt youth, their entry into the “world of work” contradicts everything we have taught them about the importance of professionalism.
Tanesha, one of our graduates from last year, recently got a job at JFK airport. She came by our office recently in part to vent, in part to get support to figure out how she (might) stick it out and just not quit. Why does she want to quit? Because she gets (bad) attitude from colleagues who outrank her solely in terms of tenure. Other colleagues she’s approached about what to do, just tell her to “stay under the radar” so she can make the probation period at least and keep her job. In other words, just keep on taking it.
There’s of course no way to know for sure whether Tanesha would be equally outraged and on the verge of quitting had she not gone through exalt. But I feel pretty clear – based on conversations with hundreds of youth over many years – that her experience is magnified because of her experience in exalt. Every time she enters our space, she enters a culture of professionalism (no “If it’s past 5, don’t look for me!” cartoons posted with graying tape above staff’s desks or similar symbols of disgruntled-ness.) And her internship continued and expanded her exposure to professionalism.
Ashley, another one of our graduates from a few years ago, also came by recently. The two jobs she’s held since graduating our program – both in customer service – ended badly for similar reasons. In the first instance, a “manager” maliciously punched her time card to indicate she had taken unapproved breaks, and she was fired. In the second, her “manager” sexually harassed her and when she resisted his attempts, he proceeded to make her life miserable every day she worked until she couldn’t take it anymore, and quit. These managers were folks barely, if at all, older than her, who again, outranked her not by skill or demonstrated productivity, and certainly not by professionalism (attitude), but simply by tenure. “It’s like they get one little small piece of power and they just trip”, she says. (But who did they learn “management” from?....)
exalt youth are almost always at the bottom of things: our economy, the labor market, the justice system. One of the most powerful and important things we can do for them is show them that more is possible. So if you too would appreciate a better attitude in checking your bags, boarding a plane, or ordering your meal, consider two things: 1) what it would be like to be trapped in bad attitudes all day, everyday, just to earn a less-than living wage and 2) that you could help break this cycle by helping exalt build more internships, in more industries, so we can show kids that attitude really can transform an experience, and ultimately much more.