Article 43

 

Friday, June 03, 2016

Can’t Find A Qualified US Worker Redux 2

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Dear Mr. (name withheld),

Your top management apparently believes that making everyone else in the company feel powerless - including managers at your level - helps the bottom line. That’s been proven wrong, again and again. As the management guru Edwards Deming documented more than four decades ago, companies that empower employees by telling them what they need to accomplish and then giving them wide latitude to decide how best to do it perform far better than companies that dictate everything. A recent study by the Jackson Organization shows that “companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don’t.”

I’d advise you to join with a half-dozen other managers at your level who understand this and approach top management together, starting with a memo outlining why the company’s current draconian policies are failing, and how other large companies are succeeding by giving their employees more responsibility rather than less (Costco, Apple, Proctor&Gamble, Starbucks), and suggesting a meeting to discuss. If top management has any shred of insight or integrity, it will follow up. Good luck to you.
- Robert Reich

People blossom when they feel loved. People who feel loved feel better about themselves. They’re more articulate, they take more risks out in the world, they’re able to be more independent. When people feel loved it grows them.  Knowing that you matter to someone else and that someone has your back gives you a strength.
- Dr. Sue Johnson

The worst leaders are petty and selfish. Good leaders value their entire staff. They recognize their success depends on serving and helping their whole staff succeed..
- Anonymous

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When I got my tech job at AT&T a couple of generations ago, the first thing they did was send me for a few months to their school - AT&T University.  Then I spent six months as an apprentice, working alongside a veteran technician installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting equipment.  After that, I was allowed to work semi-solo for another six months - heavily monitored and coached. Finally I was officially recognized as a “qualified technician” and trusted to be alone with customers and the MAGIC that makes PHONE CALLS work. 

Training never stopped.  As new technology was introduced, I was sent to school for theory, then hands on, then to work.

I spent a lot of years working for AT&T as a highly skilled, highly productive technician.  The company got a good worker, and paid us well with a good salary and benefits. Life was a win-win for everyone, until THINGS CHANGED.

The apprentice program has been around for eons - and works.

I don’t care how many books someone can throw at me on anything - without hands on experience, and without a little guidance by a seasoned veteran - it’s lacking.

Sure I can read a how-to guide on fixing a leaky faucet - but after I’m done reading, it’s off to the faucet to change a washer.  And if my plumber friend were around, he can show me how the pros do it.

Would you trust a pilot that read reams of flight manuals but never flew a plane? 

Neither would I. Pilots go through school, and hours in a simulator before getting near a cockpit. Then they fly alongside a veteran pilot for another few thousand hours before getting their wings. How about a bus driver? Would you a trust a guy that read a bunch of books on proper bus driving techniques, knows exactly how many passengers a bus can safely hold - but never got behind the wheel?  Neither would I. 

How good can anyone be at reading a book on golf, but never actually swinging a club?

About as good as a fat slob showing you how to loose weight.

Did Bruce Lee get his black belt reading books how to throw a good punch?

No.  He got in a bunch of street fights.

TODAY in business the apprenticeship program - like LONGEVITY and GOOD JOBS - is all but gone. Companies hire TEMPORARY workers, or try to swindle the government to train its workers, threatening to offshore/outsource work if it doesn’t.  Take the PLATFORM TO EMPLOYMENT. It’s much needed help for LONG-TERM unemployed BOOMERS, and a great idea in musical chairs - get the taxpayers to train older people while CEOS SING to the music of subsidized training and internships - and companies will HIRE THEM for what FEW JOBS are available, instead of young COLLEGE grads.

Then there’s the job I have today - an EXPRESSION of corporate ATTITUDES nowadays in CUSTOMER SERVICE.  I’m an outsourced CALL CENTER rep for a company whose products and technology I know next to nothing about, yet a FIRST CONTACT for its technical support.  Before being sent out to the production floor, I was was given some computer based reading material, and shown a couple of the products in a back room. Customers are annoyed and frustrated when they call in looking for help on hardware or software I’m supposed to be an expert on - but the only things I know come from that stuff I just read.  How’s that for real world experience?  Criticising our work and PUTTING US DOWN is the norm. When I mess up on a trouble ticket - which is easy with inadequate training and lack of exposure - the mistakes are shared by management both as an internal note on the ticket for all employees to see, and broadcast on an intracompany mail list.  Some people work for free through lunch to catch up on their assignments which is often more work than can be handled without cutting corners and getting sloppy. Some do it to SUCK-UP to management, others fear getting fired for not keeping up with everyone else. The level of NEGATIVE FEEDBACK and MICROMANAGEMENT is SUFFOCATING.  And our inbound phone calls are recorded and monitored. 

How effective and ENGAGING is that? 

About THIS EFFECTIVE:

When you finally do get through to an agent, you’ll hear something like: “Welcome to DSL technical support, my name is Larry how can I help you today?” You give Larry your account number and begin to explain your situation, knowing all the while that this is a formality. As soon as you stop talking he’ll begin the same dance you’ve danced every time you call tech support.

You conclude your exhaustive rundown of your case history. There’s a beat, and then Larry responds, “I understand sir. Can you tell me. Is your computer plugged in?”

Every call Larry takes is subject to quality control which means he’s being monitored. And the Big Brother in this particular situation requires he ask you if the computer is plugged in, if the power is on and if the monitor is on as well. If he gets caught doing something else he’ll get fired. He doesn’t necessarily think you’re borderline retarded, he just has no autonomy whatsoever. Larry is like a CSI: Miami cast member: a now-soulless abomination with a script that he must follow against his better judgment.

Most tech support agents you’ve spoken with are sitting in a giant, cubicle-strewn mess of a room with hundreds of other agents, all at their computers with headsets on, all running the same tech support software. Most don’t actually have any computer expertise. By and large they’re recent high school grads, single moms or social malcontents who refuse to wear anything that doesn’t feature a character from a Tim Burton children’s movie on it. They’re trained for 30 days on the software and are encouraged to just read along with the computer for each call. So in most cases, Larry’s bosses aren’t exactly wrong for discouraging any off-prompter improvising.

That’s why every time you call with a different problem they ask you to do the same thing. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re doing (though they very likely may not), it’s that they only have one thing to do and this is it. It might help you feel less frustrated to think of each tech support call as a horrific fall down a set of stairs. Fight as much as you want, but there’s only one way that this can go, and each step leads to banging your head.

Which brings us to these articles.

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Its Time to Ditch 4 Years of Costly College for Directed Apprenticeships
Short, intense directed apprenticeships that teach students how to learn on their own to mastery are the future of higher education.

By Charles Hugh Smith
Washington’s Blog
June 2, 2016

So it turns out sitting in a chair for four years doesn’t deliver mastery in anything but the acquisition of staggering student-loan debt. Practical (i.e. useful) mastery requires not just hours of practice but directed deep learning via doing of the sort you only get in an apprenticeship.

The failure of our model of largely passive learning and rote practice is explained by Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code (sent to me by Ron G.), which upends the notion that talent is a genetic gift. It isn’t - in his words, its grown by deep practice, the ignition of motivation and master coaching.

Using these techniques, student reach levels of accomplishment in months that surpass those of students who spent years in hyper-costly conventional education programs. The potential to radically improve our higher education system while reducing the cost of that education by 90% is the topic of my books Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy and The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education.

Let’s start by admitting our system of higher education is unsustainable and broken: a complete failure by any reasonable, objective standard. Tuition has soared $1,100% while the output of the system (the economic/educational value of a college degree) has declined precipitously.

A recent major study, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, concluded that American higher education is characterized by “limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.”

The typical graduate of a short, intense directed apprenticeship says “I learned more in a month here than I did in four years of college.” This is a statement of fact, and it is the result of the methods deployed in structured on-the-job training.

It is a fact that passively listening to a lecture does not generate the sort of mastery that creates economic value or the sort of deep understanding that is the goal of a classic liberal arts education.

Its also a fact that rote practice also doesnҒt lead to mastery, and often kills the very passion for a subject that in more productive programs jumpstarts mastery.

Our higher educational system has failed so badly that many students are incapable of writing/communicating effectively. In a world of rapidly changing technologies across every field and an emerging economy that places an ever-higher premium on collaboration and clear communication across multiple time zones and languages, the ability to writeclearly is absolutely essential.

To graduate students with poor writing skills is completely unforgivable. Yet in the current system, if a student logs the requisite number of credits, a diploma is duly issued, regardless of how little he/she actually learned.

Heres a six-month program that could replace four years of hyper-costly, ineffective university.

1. Teach the students how to learn on their own, for the rest of their lives. This could take as little as a few hours or days. Once a student learns how to pursue deep learning and deep practice on their own, they donҒt need years of classroomsthey just need the guidance of someone experienced in the field, i.e. a structured apprenticeship.

2. One semester in a wide variety of on-the-job experiences. Once students are given real experience in a variety of fields and industries, it֒s likely some spark of ignition will occur and theyll find the motivation to pursue real mastery instead of a worthless credential.

3. Directed apprenticeships plus online lectures/workshops by the best lecturers viewed before or after the studentsҒ real work. The key to learning deeply and learning fast is to push right up against the current level of competence, where failure occurs and can be addressed one piece at a time.

Interestingly, Coyle notes that the most successful incubators of talent around the world are generally in makeshift or decrepit buildings, not fancy new gleaming buildings of the sort that dot American college campuses. Surrounded by luxury, who feels any hunger to learn anything voraciously?

The entire campus experience should be jettisoned, not just as an overly expensive infrastructure but as a detriment to fast, deep learning that is the foundation of mastery.

It isn’t that hard to teach students how to improve their writing/communications skills very quickly, and give them a taste of the classic liberal arts education so many people claim is the goal of $120,000 four-year programs that fail to generate a deep understanding of anything remotely leading to mastery.

Give them a single sentence by Melville, Austin, et al. and have them compose a sentence that is like the original in cadence, structure and meaning in one minute flat. Go, go, go. Then break down each phrase and each component and work through each one to improve their first efforts, step by step. Repeat the process, always under intense time pressure.

Then take them out into the real world to report a journalistic story by interviewing people, checking facts, confirming quotes from sources, question the received wisdom around the topic and compose the story in journalistic style. Once again, break down their efforts line by line in comparison with a professional journalistsҒ story on the same topic.

Then, in the second class more doing the work at a breakneck pace, more being pushed beyond their current level of expertise, more corrections of errors and weaknesses, step by step, in a pressure-cooker of deadlines.

I can pretty much guarantee the students in such a directed apprenticeship will learn more about writing in a week than they would in a year of conventional coursework.

Short, intense directed apprenticeships that teach students how to learn on their own to mastery are the future of higher education. We can continue to squander trillions of dollars on an ineffective system until it finally collapses under its own weight, or we can admit the current contraption is unsustainable and a failure, and move on to a better, cheaper system.

SOURCE

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Businesses’ Responsibility to Train And Reskill The Long-Term Unemployed

By Matt Ferguson
CEO, CareerBuilder
October 18, 2013

Even though the U.S. job market continues to operate far below its potential, many employers are EXPRESSING FRUSTRATION over the quality of job seekers applying to their open positions. In a survey from CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive, 8 in 10 employers expressed concern over an emerging skills gap, but interestingly, only 4 in 10 employers believed their organizations were doing anything to close it.

To fix skill shortages in the near and long term, employers simply have to play a larger role in the process of training and reskilling.

Of course, there are many OTHER FACTORS critical to navigating the competitive talent market. Those include eliminating HIRING PRACTICES that inadvertently screen out qualified candidates, studying labor supply and demand data to see where top talent resides, and ensuring wages are both competitive and rising for skilled positions. Ultimately, however, more companies must take ownership of the problem by developing the skills they need internally.

While researching my forthcoming book, The Talent Equation, my co-authors and I spoke with executives at Humana, who at the time were finishing up the first phase of an initiative to hire 1,000 veterans or spouses of veterans in an effort to combat extremely high unemployment rates for post-9/11 service members. They proudly achieved their goal and were thrilled with the quality of their new hires. However, much of their success rested on their ability to hire for potential and train individuals who on paper may not have seemed like the perfect fit, but had enormous potential to succeed when given the right tools.

Humana’s and other companies’ efforts to reduce veteran unemployment is a learning moment. If we can acknowledge the ability of veterans and reward them with a job and training opportunities, I am confident the same can be done for the long-term unemployed.

This is an issue critical to securing an economic future that includes all Americans who seek to contribute. The share of the unemployed population that has been out of work for more than 27 weeks is nearly 40 percent - a high figure not reached in previous recoveries. As it stands now, the long-term unemployed, whether veterans or workers near the end of their careers, are at risk of being permanently left out of the workforce if their skills atrophy and their connections to the job market deteriorate.

Unfortunately, many companies have cut internal training programs or simply aren’t in the practice of teaching workers new technical skills. A 2012 CareerBuilder survey found that 47 percent of U.S., nongovernment employers either have no training budgets at all or have training budgets under $25,000 annually. Workers sense the dearth of training opportunities as well. Only 21 percent of workers said they’ve acquired a new skill through company-provided training over the previous five years, according to an Accenture survey.

Many companies argue that training for technical skills presents a risk. Why give a new worker a skill they can easily take to a competitor who didn’t make the same investment? But actually, empowering employment via training is a driver of retention and productivity gains if done well. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found skills training and learning opportunities to be a better retention tactic for full-time workers than decreased workloads, academic reimbursement, and perks such as subsidized lunches, game rooms, or casual dress codes. Another study showed that training boosts productivity significantly more than labor costs, a signal that companies will reap the rewards of their investment.

It’s also possible to successfully train for technical skills in fast-growing information technology occupations over a short period of time and still produce skilled, functional employees. To test this hypothesis CareerBuilder hired ten long-term unemployed individuals in 2012 for a six-month, paid internship and trained them in Structured Query Language (SQL)—a programming language used for database management systems. Shortly after completing the program, seven of the interns landed full-time jobs and one went to school to earn a formal technology degree. We ran the program again in 2013 with similar success.

Some companies can’t afford to be at full staff, let alone establish a new training program. That’s understandable. But at a certain point we have to consider alternatives. If every employer capable of training for technical skills decides it’s not their responsibility, the very skill shortages hiring managers cite as a perennial concern will only be exacerbated.

It’s also important to note that extended vacancies come at a cost. One in four companies tells us they’ve lost revenue as a result of unfilled positions. Many more cite sinking morale among existing employees and reduced productivity. In light of this, an employer that is unable to fill key positions should question whether waiting for the perfect hire is worth these costs when an eager candidate can very likely learn the required skills and succeed in the role. I’m hopeful more companies will come to realize they have the tools to bring long-term unemployed workers back from the fold, thereby turning the page on one of the post-recession labor market’s most important issues.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the “Close It” Summit, in conjunction with the upcoming “Close It” Summit (Nov. 5-7, 2013, in Washington, D.C.). The summit will address the U.S. job-market skills gap. For more information on the conference, please VISIT.

SOURCE

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Time to Focus on Your Best Performers

Your highest-performing employees may be just the ones most likely considering leaving your organization for another opportunity, especially since those with the strongest skills are generally also those in the highest demand. Keeping those employees is paramount for your organization’s success.

By Renee Charney and Carol A. Gravel
February 14, 2014

As the U.S. economy continues to show signs of life, organizations everywhere are slowly regaining their optimism. Recent job numbers show that applications for unemployment benefits are dropping and most months the jobs report continues to show a healthy net increase in the number of private-sector opportunities. The fact that companies are again hiring is good news, of course. But as employers, leaders, and Human Resources executives, we need to be aware that job growth also means more opportunities for employees who may wish to leave their current positions. If people are not happy where they are, if they’re not fully engaged, they may decide to go elsewhere.

Research and practice tells us that if your employees are not fully engaged they are more likely to seek employment elsewhere, i.e. to jump ship. In addition, as we see an increase in employment, people who have until now chosen to stay with their current employer may very well begin looking for other options that are more in line with their needs. A recent Yale University study of job mobility patterns over a 30-year period found that job mobility dramatically increases after a recession. To retain high-performing employees, it is vital to identify effective strategies to engage and retain your top talent.

A key element in employee retention is employee empowerment. Employee empowerment is not just a recent buzz word; it is in fact a planned and continued effort to provide employees with the ability to grow professionally, to take risks, and to make decisions on their own. The benefits of employee empowerment are well known. A small-business series published in the Houston Chronicle confirms that employee empowerment results in improved productivity, overall cost reductions and improved morale (just to name a few), all elements that directly relate to employee retention.

We recommend four specific ways to lay the groundwork for the kinds of empowerment that lead to highly engaged employees (and, therefore, to increased retention of your best performers):

Engage in Authentic and Transparent Conversations. This may sound simple, but too often we’ve seen leaders err on the side of sharing too little information with their teams rather than too much. In a Forbes article from 2011, leadership development consultant Kristi Hedges wrote that “authenticity is paramount and palpable.” She goes on to say that, “We are drawn to people as individuals, not as concepts such as business owner or boss. Great leaders take the time to really know others.” Engaged employees want to work for leaders who are self-aware, sharing, and trusting. That starts with openness. That openness models a behavior that your employees will pick up on and likely begin to model with their peers.

Challenge People. Often very talented people can fall into a “comfort zone,” a particular set of responsibilities where they feel safest. Empowering people also means pushing them a little bit and stretching them to find the edges of their comfort zones while at the same time providing the support that allows them to effectively face these new challenges. According to Jackson and Parry’s 2011 book titled A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Leadership, this practice of providing learning opportunities for your employees, coupled with demonstrating authentic and transparent leadership, increases the likelihood of dedicated and engaged followership.

Encourage Risk Taking. David Packard, American philanthropist and a founding half of Hewlett-Packard, said this: “Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.” How often do we, as leaders, encourage rather than discourage risk taking? Engaged employees want to take chances, want to try new things, and followers who work in an environment where they are trusted to learn from their mistakes are more likely to increase their discretionary efforts. Sure, they’ll fall down, and that’s when it’s a leader’s job to help them up. So let them take chances; let them reach “far enough.”

Give Trust. Too often in our culture we talk of having to earn trust, as if trust is some currency that can be passed from hand to hand. In our view, trust is something to give as well as earn, and one way to engage effectively with your employees is simply to assume trust. As often as not, your lack of trust may end up being self-fulfilling. Try it the other way, giving trust rather than forcing it to be earned. In the words of Susan Scott, author of the book Fierce Leadership, “Don’t just hold them accountable—hold them able!” You’ll be amazed at how often people will live up to your expectations—and will trust you all the more for trusting them.

These four strategies serve to create environments where employees will be more willing to step up or lean in, more willing to challenge themselves, and more willing to assume accountability for results. The four strategies help you to create an environment where people feel empowered. Empowered employees will fuel your company—and will want to stay on your ship—versus someone else’s.

We note, however, that employee empowerment also brings with it some changes for leaders. For many leaders it may seem easier to manage with a directed approach, but “micro-management” will in fact stifle employee empowerment. As Richard Porterfield, author of “The Perils of Micromanagement” writes: “Managers who insist on being involved in every detail demoralize their employees, add unnecessary stress to their own lives, and endanger their organization’s long-term success.” Leaders need to recognize that empowering their staff means they may need to learn new leadership skills.

There’s also the question of organizational alignment. One of the key elements of employee empowerment is that employees make decisions and take risks. You should align your teams and departments to ensure collaboration but also to focus on achieving the organizational goals. If your organization is not aligned to create awareness of what other groups are doing, as well as a clear understanding of the organizational goals, empowered employees will not be able to help your organization be successful.

We encourage you to begin practicing these four simple strategies for retaining your high-performing employees. Start with one team or one department to begin with and learn from that experience. Leaders who engage and empower employees to achieve the organization’s goals provide an opportunity for individuals and teams to contribute to the overall success of the organization. That success, and the empowering behaviors that lead to it, are the keys to retaining your best employees.

Renee Charney is the Founder and President of Charney Coaching & Consulting LLC, a New Hampshire-based leadership and organizational-consulting company. She can be reached at rcharney at charneycc.com. Carol A. Gravel is an associate professor of human resource management at Franklin Pierce University, where she is the program director for the MBA/HRM program and is the faculty advisor for the Franklin Pierce University SHRM student chapter. She can be reached at gravelc at franklinpierce.edu.

SOURCE

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A bad job is harder on your mental health than unemployment

By Stephen Bevan
Mashable
December 17, 2014

There can be no doubt that the job market has been more resilient since the financial crisis than many imagined. Unemployment did not rise as far as was feared and the recovery in employment to pre-recession levels HAS BEEN QUICKER THAN FORECAST by even the most optimistic labour economists. So, time for some self-congratulatory back-slapping among policy makers then? On the surface of things, at least, it looks like a jobs miracle, despite the belt-tightening of austerity.

Unfortunately, having studied the quality of jobs which many people in the United Kingdom are now doing, this is not entirely the case. The UK labor market is, indeed, performing well but we have a growing and potentially CORROSIVE PROBLEM of poor quality, precarious and temporary work which threatens our productivity and competitiveness, levels of social inclusion and, ultimately, the health of the workforce.

Many will argue that this contingent work is essential if we are to have a FLEXIBLE LABOR MARKET and this, of course, has always been the case. But how about the effects of this kind of work on the people doing it?

My research has focused on the relationship between the kinds of contingent work that has poor psychosocial quality and the mental health of the workers doing it. And findings force us to ask, perhaps heretically, whether we are actually always better off in work.

Work and well-being

Psychosocial job quality involves the degree to which jobs promote control, autonomy, challenge, variety and task discretion. It effects the extent to which work enhances or diminishes our psychological well-being.

There’s a clear link between being engaged in “good work” and mental health. An important contribution to our understanding of this link has come from the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey in Australia. It brings together a robust set of data that can be easily compared with other situations such as unemployment. THE RESULTS, published by Peter Butterworth and colleagues at the Australian National University have global resonance for countries that are serious about developing an understanding of what being “better off” in work really means, beyond narrow economic definitions.

The received wisdom is that being out of work is a bad thing. It certainly is bad, as we know, for income. It is also bad for self-esteem, dignity, social inclusion, relationships and health. So, all other things being equal, a policy position that promotes getting people back into work is both rational and evidence-based.

But, building on this position, and especially during a period of high unemployment, the received wisdom also tells us that any job is a good job. This axiom informs current UK policy towards compulsory work experience and the “workfare” or “work-for-benefits” thinking which many politicians now favor.

Worse than unemployment

Being in poor-quality work which, perhaps, is boring, routine or represents underemployment or a poor match for the employee’s skills is widely regarded as a good way for the unemployed to remain connected to the labor market and to keep the work habit. But Butterworth’s data contradicts this. The HILDA data shows unambiguously that the psychosocial quality of bad jobs is WORSE THAN UNEMPLOYMENT. Butterworth looked at those moving from unemployment into employment and found that:

Those who moved into optimal jobs showed significant improvement in mental health compared to those who remained unemployed. Those respondents who moved into poor-quality jobs showed a significant worsening in their mental health compared to those who remained unemployed.

So now we have a slightly different answer to the question about the unemployed being better off in work. Yes they are, as long as they are in good-quality jobs. If they are in bad jobs, there is a perversely strong chance that they will be worse off ŗ especially in terms of their mental health.

Again, for those who think that there should be punitive undertones to policies to get unemployed people back to work would do well to question whether the “any job is a good job” maxim is as accurate as they like to think. Moreover, we should probably question whether the revolving-door characteristics of some policies in which many people fall back out of work soon after being found a job might in part ח owe their poor performance to the damaging psychosocial quality of the work itself.

This shouldn’t stop us from straining every sinew to help people find work. But it should make us think a lot more about how the quality of jobs can affect our health and productivity. Even in a recession, the uncomfortable truth may be that “any job” may not be a good job at all.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 06/03/16 •
Section Dealing with Layoff • Section Dying America
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