Not too long ago, the Star Tribune ran an article quoting a 2014 St. Olaf graduate who was fired from his job as a commodities trader due to his “poor phone skills.” The article has sparked many debates about phone skills and their place in the modern work environment. Many young people entering the workforce these days struggle with actual telephone calls, since they are much more accustomed to things like texting. They argue that in the digital age, voice communication is outdated and thus irrelevant. This notion is ridiculous.
First of all, it is not the market’s job to cater to the preferences of certain individuals. If someone can be fired for deficiency in a particular skill, it is safe to assume that that skill was a relevant and necessary part of the job. If employers need workers who can communicate effectively over the phone, then job-seekers should be developing their phone skills. Likewise, if an employee is not properly prepared for the duties of his or her job, the employee will quickly cease to have said job. Saying that the invention of texting make phone skills obsolete is like saying that because videos exist, there is no reason to be literate. Another example: let’s say I’m in charge of hiring a new circus clown, and one of the candidates refuses to wear the red clown nose.
“It’s uncomfortable and I don’t like it,” the applicant says.
“But the audience likes it; they want to see a clown with a silly red nose,” I reply.
“Well, I think it’s outdated, so I’m not going to wear it ever,” the applicant says.
“If you won’t be a proper clown, then I’m not going to hire you to be a clown,” I reply.
“Waaaaah! This is so unfair!” whines the wannabe-clown.
See what I mean? The bottom line is that if you cannot do a job, you do not get to do that job. It is pretty easy logic.
Admittedly, the argument that employers should incorporate new communication mediums such as texting does have some validity. Texting has its advantages: it is convenient, quick and efficient for lower-priority communications. It would be foolish for companies not to take advantage of new technologies being developed.
What the issue comes down to is this: millennials have confused the rise of texting for the downfall of phone calls. When a new medium is introduced, the old medium declines in use, but it is not killed with the sad exception of the wax cylinder. It is simply making room to coexist with the new medium. Movie theatres exist, yet we still have libraries. We have Blu-ray discs, yet DVDs are available for purchase. Netflix and Hulu are picking up speed, but cable networks are still turning a profit. Everyone has an iPod these days, yet retailers still have a section dedicated to CDs. Airplanes have been around for several decades now, but don’t tell that to the thriving boating industry. I could honestly keep listing all the examples for hours.
The point is that both sides of the debate need to make concessions. Young workers need to accept the fact that there are useful workplace skills besides the ones they like and are good at. Employers need to accept that these new methods of communication are not merely nuisances, but tools that can be utilized to their benefit. The sooner everyone comes to these conclusions, the sooner everyone can get back to business and be productive.
Chaz Mayo ’18 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Rice Lake, Wis. He majors in theater.