Shortage Solutions 7: Recruitment

Check out our new table of contents!

So today we’re going to put into words one of the philosophies we go by. We have been over lots of ways for professionals and companies to beat the shortage or perceived shortage. Today we’re going to dive into the numbers.

Hopefully, we can all agree that stenography is somewhat easy to learn but incredibly difficult to do fast. Even if we can’t agree on that, we can agree there’s a high dropout rate because of the amount of focus and practice that goes into doing what we do. There is a certain percentage of people that hear about stenography, a certain percentage of people that try it, a certain percentage that like it, and a certain percentage that love it and want it to be their career. Empirically, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to make the education easier without sacrificing performance. So the amount of people that make it to the end will pretty much always be lower.

So let’s fake some numbers. Let’s say for every 1000 people that hear about steno, 100 try it. Let’s say 10 of those 100 are good. Let’s say 1 of those 10 loves this field and wants it to be their career. Can we, as professionals, impact those bottom numbers, and get it to be, you know, 5 people who love it and want to make it a career? A 500 percent increase? Debatable. I say let’s try.

But what do we have very direct control over? That first number. The number of people who hear about stenography. The number of people who know it’s a thing. How many people have you met that don’t believe we exist anymore? How many people have you met that don’t believe we are typing or taking down every word?

Indeed, these are likely the same principles on which A to Z, Project Steno, or Open Steno Project were founded. It’s about lowering barriers like tuition or general steno knowledge. It’s about understanding that every impression has a chance at getting someone to start the path, and that every person that starts the path has a shot at finishing it, however low or high you think that shot is.

There are different ways to perform this outreach, via social media, physical appearance at job fairs, or use of other avenues. There are already many people who have taken up recruitment efforts, and if it’s something you’re into, you can either join an existing movement or jumpstart your own thing. 10 years ago, a lot of the programs we’ve just mentioned were in their infancy or didn’t exist at all. Who is to say that your own idea won’t take off the same way?

Be Smart With Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool. Like any tool, it needs to be handled properly. We have had unions, associations, and individual reporters growing their online presence and using it to get details and ideas out to fellow stenographers. All that said, whether you’re posting a joke or creating a professional networking masterpiece, it’s time for some advice on social media.

First, realize that people will see what you post. You’ve got to be pretty comfortable with anyone and everyone seeing it, from your best friend to your worst enemy. What you do on social media is largely not private, no matter the group, setting, or structure. As a new person, this can be intimidating and dissuade you from participating in discussions. We’ll get into why that’s a bad idea, but first let’s run over some quick tips to make your use of social media enjoyable.

    If you are freelancing, posting directly about your agency can bite. In every group, there is a person, persons, or Parsons that will leak your post to your agency to curry favor or because your post offends their sensibilities. If you have a delicate piece of information that you want published, seek out a confidant or method to anonymously publish the information. If it’s newsworthy or going to help stenographers, then it’s worth protecting yourself first.
    If you are freelancing, posting about setting rates or conspiring to fix rates can get you in legal trouble. It’s called price fixing, and it’s a concern because we are not considered workers or employees, but independent contractors on the same level of business as agencies. We all know that the power and reach we have as individuals is different. That doesn’t change antitrust law.
    If you’re working as an employee or even freelancing, posting about a job can hurt you badly. We are supposed to be neutral, and in some states there are ethical rules we can break if we are not careful. There is a line between talking about a political idea or law and talking about an actual case that you reported on. My advice? Don’t cross the line. Imagine screen shots of what you say being printed in news.
    Be kind. The family members or friends of whoever you talk about may be watching. Easy example, I once posted about a stenographer losing their job. Someone who was close to that person reminded us then and there, we all struggle in life, don’t rush to judgment.
    Test your own beliefs. You will see crazy claims out there on the Internet. Rarely should you dismiss what people say out of hand or make final conclusions. Perfect example, I saw a transcript I thought was page padding. I came to learn that that was that state’s mandated page layout. What you think is not always what is true.
    Controls can help. Social media is a tool. Privacy settings can screen out some people from seeing stuff. You can choose who to follow, who to block, and all sorts of other content preferences. Spend just one afternoon reviewing your settings and make sure you’re getting the most relevant info in your feed.

So now we get to the logical end: This stuff is stressful. Why don’t I just delete my social media? You can. There is no law against that. But social media is this amazing tool for staying current and tuned into what the field is doing. We get the great marketplace of ideas, dispatches from agencies, and food for our own thoughts. Life is stressful, but very few of us run off into the wild to live off the grid. Why? Because the benefits of society are greater than the simplicity we’d otherwise have. Similarly, the benefits of social media are greater than the peace gained by never engaging. That said, engage smartly so that your tool never gets used as a weapon against you.

Silence is Deafening

There was a great deal of mirth when we started this blog in the summer of 2017. Perhaps we suffered from pain or fear, but we knew that there was a need to begin preserving and sharing knowledge. We did not expect an audience. We were told, perhaps rightly, that there was no reason for readers to find us credible. There were no delusions of grandiosity. There was only a single belief and overriding directive: It was the right thing to do. We had inspiration and experience in the field. We saw the many questions our contemporaries had. We could begin to document these questions, issues, and answers or simply continue the impossible game of answering each one individually on Facebook.

Imagine ourselves in a plain white room with no windows or doors. There is only a voice every 12 hours that tells us the time. It is now 6 a.m., says the voice. We do not know if it is really 6 a.m. Nor do we know if the last time was really 6 p.m. We do know that the time in between, we are left to our thoughts, as dark or optimistic as they may be.

We saw this in the interactions across the field. One often only gets to talk about the field when one is brave enough to put their face on a question or statement. Is the time 6 a.m.? Groups dedicated to answering questions could also devolve into mocking questions and creating an environment that even the most zealous stenographers did not wish to take part in. Of course it is not 6 a.m., mocks the voice, never bothering to say what we really want to know.

Without input, our newbies and students may stumble blindly into the same pitfalls we did. Without guiding voices, they may lose the ability to tell the time. We have grown in readership not because the things we say are particularly profound, but because we say them. We do not back down from hard truths. We try to give credit when it is due. We are always open to changing our minds when a situation warrants it. We inform whenever we can, and do not assume everyone knows what we know. We feel the field would benefit from these principles, and so we share them freely, hoping to see more discussion and camaraderie grow in New York and across the country for stenographers.

We encourage more voices to join us in guiding those who need guidance. One need not any special qualification to lead. One need only disregard the voice that tells them not to speak out. Continue blogging, talking, encouraging, and answering questions. Our greatest achievement will not be the hours spent dictating the time, but the day we have built a foundation of knowledge so strong that our learners can escape the room and teach others to see the morning.

The Price of Perfection

This one goes out to my many perfect contemporaries. This one is for every perfectionist, and even some want-to-be perfectionists. There’s no easy way to say it, so let’s start off with a story about Morris. Morris is a perfectionist. Day after day, he takes the time to carefully perfect everything that he does. In fact, he’s got his commute timed, his work scheduled, and everything falls into place perfectly all the time. One day, Morris comes up with an idea, a perfect one, naturally, and begins to work on it. Except it isn’t perfect. It’s just missing something. He can’t release his creation like this. Morris’s perfect idea never sees the light of day because it just wasn’t perfect enough for him.

Why do we let great be the enemy of good? Why do we strive to be perfect when sometimes all the world needs is good enough? For some it’s a code of honor, for others a badge, and for a few, a compulsion. I’ve caught myself many times refusing to act, waiting to do something, or wanting a thing to have better conditions before I set off. Now I wonder, how many ideas in this world never come to fruition because they are never started? The old cliche, “once begun, half done” resonates here.

We can actually see this in history. Many great things came about through apparent happenstance, willingness to share the imperfect, or the imperfect contributions of a collective. The internet, penicillin, peanut butter. It is nice to romanticize and buy into the idea that there is some coordinated sentience pushing things along the “right” way, and that things happen because they’re meant to be, but ultimately every step forward comes with a new set of consequences, whether beneficial or malignant, and the solutions or next steps come from the people who are willing to eschew the cloak of perfection and take up the mantle of doing. So what is your next step? Will you await the perfect condition before contributing, or will you get out there and contribute to something? There’s a world of art, music, computers, steno, literature, and study. You need not despair if the thing you’re working on right now does not work out. There’s a world of things to do and see, but only for those willing to open their eyes to an imperfect world, and only for those willing to open their minds up to being imperfect.

A Quick Note About Typos On This Blog

Once upon a time, and still from time to time, I poke fun at typos, errors, or omissions in various forms of media including newspapers, news articles, and blog posts. Having come to a point where I write my own blog, I see how fast the typos can pile up. When I wrote primarily on my PC and made specific time to write, my posts were generally very clean. Now that I’m hooked up on mobile and find myself writing any time I have time, I see that mistakes are quite common. Periods go missing, commas get misplaced, text gets accidentally deleted, header scripts get added to paragraph text.

I need to ask a favor of every reader now that the blog is approaching a good 400 views a month or more: Let me know when I have made a mistake. Laugh about it. Post jokes publicly or privately. Do what you have to do to make yourself feel better, but let me know that there’s an error so that it can be fixed.

In return, I do and will continue to practice what I preach and gently let publications know when there are errors. I will do my best to read all criticisms and correct things I feel warrant correction. The rationale here is simple: We may disagree with each other’s views or philosophy, but it is intellectually dishonest to point at a spelling/grammar mistake and say that makes someone less of a reporter, writer, or truth teller. We protect the collective record, so to speak, when we speak up and let each other know there’s a mistake or a goof.

There’s a time and place for castigation of people who needlessly and carelessly make mistakes. For everyone else, there’s a road to improvement and a way forward, and it reflects positively on every reporter when we encourage others to do better.

Cultural Literacy

The Philosopher King.

Plato once surmised that evils would never cease until either philosophers became kings, or kings became philosophers. Aristotle disagreed, and in sum and substance countered that it was not merely unnecessary for a king to be a philosopher, but even a disadvantage. A king should listen to the advice of true philosophers. In doing so, he would fill his reign with good deeds, not merely good words.

We may apply such ideas to today’s world, and consider the various specializations that people have when we weigh their words against what we know or believe. I had the good fortune of having a discussion with a reporting educator months ago, and today I am reminded of the wise words that educator gave me. I came to that educator with a simple question: Would reporting students graduate faster if not required to complete prerequisites such as math or English? I was countered profoundly with the following answer: The educator felt that students were not deficient in math or English to a troublesome extent. Rather, the educator felt there was deficiency in civics, current events, and cultural literacy. The educator saw students as not only being deficient in those areas, but resistant to learning in those categories.

I was quite surprised. Though my actual question went unanswered, I was given a nugget of insight that no one else in seven years of reporting had ever given me. The education and subsequent career of a reporter can be hampered not by the layout or style of the education, but by the student’s resistance to learning. By closing our minds, we close doors on ourselves.

What can we do about this? Perhaps the answer is to explore and practice to a wider variety of dictation. Personally, I have always believed that the magic of our job is mastering the material we hear the most, and to that end, mindless repetition of the same words and phrases can be important. But then I am reminded of a recent RPR webinar and prep class with dictation by Joshua B. Edwards, where he read from a monologue wherein the speaker spoke about describing America in one word. Much to my surprise, at only maybe 150 to 180 words per minute, there was some difficulty in keeping up, because the verbiage was so wildly different from what I hear on a daily basis.

Needless to say, but I will say, I am inspired. I am strongly considering finding insightful and varied material in my spare time and dictating it at random and/or variable speeds. If it helps one person open their mind to a new concept or idea, that’s important. If it helps many, that’s even better. Keep an eye out at my Youtube channel for future updates.