If you run a business that depends on hiring folks with high school diplomas, you are perfectly justified for feeling distressed. Two recent events have damaged your prospects.
The first is the non-decision in the Vergara vs. California lawsuit. That’s the case in which a Los Angeles judge a couple of years ago said it “shocks the conscience” how students, particularly poor students, are hurt by terrible teachers who can’t be fired, thanks to teacher tenure laws.
The case revealed that only 91 teachers in the entire state had been dismissed over a 10-year period. Yet the state Supreme Court on Aug. 22 refused to hear an appeal, which means teacher tenure rules remain the law of this undereducated land. And terrible teachers may continue in their classrooms, pushing through generations of your future work force.
The second damaging development is the legislature’s failure to renew the so-called district of choice law. That law allows parents to freely transfer their children out of their home public school district to another one, so long as that second district agrees to take them. It’s a way for some motivated parents to get their kids into a district they think is an upgrade. But with the renewal of the law intentionally blocked, it appears the district-of-choice option is in peril and could cease next summer. That would be particularly devastating, by the way, to the Oak Park district, where 40 percent of the students are transferred in.
A man I know once managed a fast-food restaurant, and he relayed his frustration over the poor education his high school hires had. Notably, they routinely struggled to make change, he said. If the cash register told a kid to give 68 cents in change to the customer at the counter, for example, the kid might say something like, “Let’s see, 68 cents. Do I start with two quarters or three?”
If you hire college graduates, you are not directly affected by this. But if you are dependent on hiring people with high school diplomas or less, you can expect more employees who can’t make change taking command of your cash register.
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The article in this issue about Louis Perry points out something interesting: Business operators don’t need to hire an expensive public relations professional to get attention in the press.
If you work at it and learn a few secrets, as Perry has, you can get plenty of free articles about you in the news media – without a press agent.
What are those secrets? Well, perhaps the most important one – and the one that effective leaders everywhere have learned – is to be a story teller. That is, come up with a tale (preferably empathetic, and one of redemption), learn to tell it compellingly and be unafraid to tell it, even if it’s personally revealing or a bit embarrassing.
That last point is really a second secret. The best stories – the ones that are most likely to get articles written about them – come from tellers who are brave enough to reveal their mistakes or human frailties or otherwise make them a bit uncomfortable. (But don’t tell stories that are too uncomfortable. You want to avoid the eww factor.)
Perry’s story: He is half black, half Dominican, and was raised in a single-parent household in Brooklyn, N.Y. He came to Los Angeles as a naïve 19-year-old, yearning to be a star. That didn’t pan out, but one day it dawned on him, in a kind of revelation, that his rent-paying job as a security guard could become a business. And now, as head of a successful security firm, he goes to parties in Beverly Hills and corresponds with current and former presidents.
Who doesn’t love a Horatio Alger story like that? Yet most buttoned-down businesspeople would be uncomfortable telling that story, saying “it’s too personal!” Perry, however, recounts it openly and unflinchingly. And that’s why his life story has been retold a hundred times in the news media. (For the 101st time in this issue.) And that’s led to secondary articles, as reporters call him back to get security tips or ask his opinion on this issue or that. And all that earned-media attention has led to more business for his security firm as customers seek out Perry, feeling they know him and like him and want to be associated with a near-celebrity.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s all fine for Perry, but you’re a white guy who went to Wharton. You have no empathetic rags-to-riches story.
But I’ll bet you have some story. Maybe you made a bad decision that cost you dearly and you had to manage your way back. Or maybe you failed to see a trend and now you’re scrambling to catch up. So long as you’re willing to talk openly about what went wrong and your challenges to correct it, you probably can get an article written about you. Business magazines and newspapers, including this one, lap up those stories.
If you’re saying, “That’s too uncomfortable. I want to tell a nice story that makes us look good,” well, I might suggest this: there are plenty of good public relations professionals you can hire.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.