Professionalism & At-Risk Youth

A friend of mine was recently fired from his job. He and I met many years ago. He was in some trouble and some friends of his, which were also my friends, thought he could use a word of direction in his life. So they introduced us. We have stayed in contact over the years and have grown quite close, but yet he has not been able to move past some of his street habits. On the streets one of the values I have seen modeled time and time again is “survival.” By this I mean doing the least amount possible to get by.

He lost his job because his employer, a home builder, couldn’t use him because of his limited skills and especially his lack of willingness to learn new things. On the street he learned to do very little and he got by. In school a D was passing. Now that he is in the work force he doesn’t want to do anything he isn’t comfortable with or anything he “doesn’t like.” He’s now in his mid-thirties and is still struggling to develop any real sort of expertise. His path to this present state of non-employment is not difficult to understand if you simply go back to the beginning.

There is a quality out there we call professionalism. This word has several different meanings. My version is that of doing your tasks in a workmanlike manner, with dispatch and with excellence in product, service and attitude. It also entails knowing our craft thoroughly. As you can see I didn’t list education. My reason is very simple, some of the most professional people I have met were not educated with college degrees. They were people who came to work and out shined everyone else. I can think of numerous waiters, waitresses, concierges, auto mechanics, lawyers, doctors, etc., who are true professionals and at the same time I could create a list of people who lack professionalism in all those professions despite their credentials.

So what does this have to do with at-risk youth? First of all professionalism is an inside job. We decide to behave in a professional matter. Professionalism is not affected by how much money we make, what our boss is like, what our title or duties are, or even what our college degree is in. It is a simple decision to put forth your very best effort every time simply because to do otherwise would bring you dishonor. It has nothing to do with what your rewards will be and everything to do with your self-esteem. A true professional doesn’t take his drama or personal life to work.

Ideally we should learn professionalism at home from our parents in the form of work ethic. At a young age we should have been taught to work. Most of us learn to work in one of three ways: someone takes the time to teach us, we figure it out, or there is a combination of the two. Most of us learned to work the third way. Most at-risk youth that I know did not have anyone to teach them anything much less work ethic.  Not only were they not taught what workmanship is they are not exposed to how things are done correctly and in what order. Here I am referring to the basic use of tools, processes and procedures. Then there is the education of how the world works, what working for someone is like and what is expected from us. This also should begin at home.

My young friend didn’t have any of that and therefore he has some learning to do. If he intends to have any degree of economic success he will have to change his ways. The first of which will have to be his attitude towards work. If he doesn’t, he will have to learn to subsist on what the government has to offer. Living by the leave of the government is not living it is merely existing.

he will have to learn to subsist on what the government has to offer. Living by the leave of the government is not living it is merely existing.


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