There are two kinds of people, those who . . .

You’ve heard those words a hundred times, spoken by someone who wants to distinguish between, say, Type A (driven) and Type B (laid back) people, or between those who, say, get up early and those who would pummel those who rise early.

Around here, perhaps the most common dividing line is work. “That one, she’s a worker, ain’t she?” Or, “He’s not much of a worker, s’far’s I can see.”

In 30 years of hiring people for our farm and 10 years of hiring people for newsrooms, I interviewed folks with a wide variety of abilities and attitudes toward work. I never figured out how to predict who would be a good worker. But I learned a thing or two.

“I really need this job,” usually meant, “I can’t hold a job.” The best way to find out why that person couldn’t hold a job was to hire her. On the other hand, around here the term “work out” doesn’t mean going to a gym. It means, especially among old-timers, taking a job away from home (usually a farm) for pay so one can keep working at home (the farm), too. No one showed a stronger work ethic than someone who wanted a job because, “I need to work out to keep working at home.” Hire that one immediately.

Even if I couldn’t predict who would become a good worker, I had the good sense to hang on to and encourage those who turned out to be good workers. A woman who started part-time in 1992 on our slaughter crew became our full-time farm manager. She is now an electrician. Another woman who also began as a part-time slaughter worker is now a physician after working for our farm on and off for more than 10 years.

Would they were the rule. They were not. One fellow had two kids and a wife who stayed with the kids. He walked two miles to apply for work during the Thanksgiving season. Then, he walked two more miles down the road to apply at another farm.

I hired him. He seemed hungry, figuratively and perhaps also literally. I had heard scuttlebutt about town that he was a drug user. But he wouldn’t be the first druggie I had hired, and some had worked out OK. He didn’t.

Unless someone kept after him every minute, he just stood on the plant floor and stared at the work going on around him. I told him I expected better. Next day, he showed up and worked for a couple of hours. Then, he said he had got a call from school that his kid was acting out and had to be picked up. He said he had arranged a ride — perhaps with his drug dealer? — to get the kid. I paid him and chalked it up to experience. An experience I had had all too often, though his case was extreme.

But the vast majority of our hires brought work skills and work ethic somewhere between the farm manager and the druggie. Here are a couple of examples.

If you want to see motivation, come to a concession booth on closing night at the Fryeburg Fair. A crew that has been living for eight days in campers and working 10 to 16 hours wants to get home.

But one guy simply didn’t know how to work. I told him to box up the electrical cords to take back to the farm. “How do I do that?” he asked. “First, get a box . . .” I began. “Where do I find a box?” The boxes were stacked at his feet. I realized that he simply lacked the work experience to figure out how to box up the cords. I gave him a different task, which he was able to perform, and told a kid half the man’s age to do the cords. The kid needed no instruction.

The late John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships while coaching at UCLA, said, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” In other words, motion is not work. Motion is motion. One man was always in motion, probably still is, but at the end of the day hadn’t accomplished much.

He couldn’t understand why I criticized his production. “I’m always working,” he said. No, he was always moving. The work sat still while he moved. On one work station with three people, I could easily measure each worker’s production. Of 100 units, it was a good day if he did 25 units while the other man and the woman on that station split the other 75. Day in, day out. Hands and feet moved, but others did the heavy lifting.

Much has been made of the loss of jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, in this country. Machines are replacing workers in almost every field. Except, maybe, mine. Retirement.

Factory work has been hit especially hard.

Our culture waxes nostalgic over those lost factory jobs. But those jobs usually meant good pay for dull work. I learned that hard truth at first hand, working third shift in a plastics factory in Kansas City to earn money to start married life. We made plastic bottles for Palmolive dishwashing liquid. The best job was at the end of the line, where a couple of guys boxed the bottles then sealed and stacked the boxes on pallets. It required some brainpower as well as physical dexterity.

Since then, Americans have glossed over the brainlessness of many factory jobs. If you want to understand how it was to work in those jobs, read the book “Rivethead,” by Ben Hamper. It’s a keen look at life on the floor of a GM car plant in Flint, Michigan, and makes it clear why the jobs are vanishing. Not to China or Mexico — that drain pretty much stopped up 15 years ago — but to Silicon Valley, where engineers work full time to come up with ways to do more work by machine, putting millions of Rivetheads out of work.

We can’t elect our way back to high-paying jobs, regardless of what Fox “News” tells us. In fact, the future of work itself may be in doubt. But that’s meat for a future column.

Bob Neal retired in 2015 after working for 68 years for pay. He highly recommends work. Retirement is too difficult.


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