Hugh Burkhart, 11/12/2012
Current Occupation: Librarian
Former Occupations: Vocational skills instructor, high school teacher, automotive plant worker, and poultry farm laborer
Contact Information: Hugh Burkhart was born in Windsor, Ontario and lives with his wife in San Diego, California. Other work of his is forthcoming in Glimmer Train.
When Sherri came to Occupational Fundamentals (OF), she was assessed in reading comprehension at the eighth grade level, spelling at the sixth grade, and performing mathematics at the fifth. She had previously attained a high school diploma and completed one year of a community college general arts program. Following the year at college, she was employed for eight years at L&A Performance – an automotive seat manufacturer – as a line worker. After a workplace injury, she began receiving compensation benefits. A year later, she was tested, and, with the help of her Case Manager and OF Allen Park Branch Manager Jennifer Roberts, she decided on the Customer Service program. Customer Service (CS) is a wide-ranging vocational goal, with graduates attaining such varied positions as call center operator, retail outlet greeter, and food service provider. While these positions do not generally pay as well as Sherri’s previous job, her benefits should top off her income to close to her pre-injury earning level. This last point was stressed repeatedly to Sherri over the course of her program as reassurance about her positive future prospects upon graduation. As she advanced towards her vocational goal, her progress was evaluated based on the criteria below:
Working effectively in group environments like the classroom is an important component of the CS program. Sherri initially struggled with the transition from injury recovery to an academic schedule. During her first three weeks at OF, her progress suffered due to attendance issues. Sherri typically attended class three out of five days per week. She often did not notify her instructor of absences even when reminded by her Case Manager that her benefits were tied to attendance. When in class, Sherri reported pain in her injured right shoulder frequently and requested work from her reading book, which required less writing. However, since she had already fulfilled the comprehension level requirements of her program, her reading book was considered strictly supplementary. Though she continually stated her preference for reading “stories,” Sherri was encouraged to do the exercises in her CS workbook. Requests by Sherri to read “real English books” with more literary content were denied on the grounds that the study of literature was not part of her formal plan. On several occasions, Sherri stated that she did not think the lessons in the workbook were relevant to her. On these occasions, she also stated her intention to return to work with her former employer in spite of the fact that her injury and subsequent compensation claim precluded her from doing so. Meetings with Sherri’s instructor, Case Manager, and Branch Manager Roberts were designed to help Sherri maintain her commitment to her vocational rehabilitation. It was stressed to Sherri that, like all OF clients, her job was to learn essential skills for her new potential employment, namely verbal and non-verbal communication, basic business mathematics, time management, and cash register operation.
General Academic Performance
Sherri’s lessons centered mostly around a combination of written exercises and role playing based on potential job scenarios. For the most part, Sherri’s writing, consisting mainly of answering questions about handling the workplace situations depicted in her CS workbook, was perfunctory. A typical answer about a fictional situation involving one worker encouraging a colleague to complain about a supervisor is as follows:
If I knew my super was being unfair, I would ask around the shop to see if it was true. Then I would go to my union rep. Its a supervisors job to be fare. If their not, then you file a grievance.
The excerpt here not only demonstrates Sherri’s hostile attitude towards authority; it also shows her poor grasp of spelling and grammar, particularly as they apply to distinguishing proper use of homophones (e.g. its and it’s, fare and fair, their and they’re). Though mistakes were pointed out to her, Sherri maintained she did not require rudimentary spelling and grammar lessons. Rather, she made repeated requests to be assigned work “more like what I had in college.” It was explained to Sherri time and again that her job at OF was to complete the assignments relevant to the CS program, which is based on the vocational goal she herself chose. Despite these explanations, Sherri often refused to complete her assignments, citing shoulder pain or, increasingly over the course of her schooling, headaches as the reasons for her failure. Due to her problems completing work, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the skills Sherri acquired. She did advance in calculator and cash register use more than she did in the CS workbook. A somewhat better assessment can be made of Sherri’s job searching capability.
Job Search Strategies
Employment seeking techniques are an important component of all OF’s programs. Sherri was instructed on resume and cover letter construction, as well as Internet and “hidden market” job searching. While Internet job searching involves more conventional strategies like scanning classified ads, hidden market searching features such job search techniques as using social networking and cold calling potential employers. Unfortunately, Sherri took advantage of the hidden market search classes by choosing to use her Facebook account for strictly personal purposes. By the conclusion of her program, Sherri applied to twelve jobs relevant to her program, though she protested in her CS personal journal that she would never “in a million years be caught dead doing a Wal-Mart cheer or delivering pizzas.”
In a final meeting with Sherri’s Case Manager and Branch Manager Roberts, Sherri’s instructor stated that while Sherri developed cordial relations with her classmates and generally remained respectful, development was difficult to measure. Sherri’s time at OF might best be summed up in her final journal entry:
I never asked to be injured or put in this fuckin school. I paid into comp and I should get the benefits I deserve. I’d rather be finishing college.
We wish Sherri the best of luck in her future endeavors.