It’s amazing what you can achieve with the aid of stationery.
No, not stationary, I don’t just mean standing still.
Since my inconveniently uncooperative extendable upper extremity has been reluctant to articulate, (the tendons in my arm are knackered) I’ve been put on euphemistically entitled “administrative duties” at work since October.
What this boils down to is that they aren’t really sure what to do with me. They can’t just shuffle me off to a different department, because there are currently no other suitable jobs I’m able to do with my injured limb, (almost any job is going to exacerbate the wear and tear sustained over many years of factory work) making me a bit of an awkward problem for the aerospace company I work for.
I was initially given a job as an “expeditor”, a position that had no actual job attached to it. This was just to be a temporary sideways move, a secondment from the department I have been with since I started working for them eight and a half years ago. However, I very much wanted it to be a permanent transfer, as I wasn’t prepared to progressively injure myself in the pursuit of my wages.
Now, I’m not a stupid bloke, I’m perfectly capable of learning new skills, but now that I’m nearly fifty (how the hell did that happen?) it has increasingly occurred to me that having a “career” might not be a bad idea, instead of a manufacturing “job” that only just pays the bills.
But is it too late to teach this aging dog new tricks?
They gave me a comfy swivel chair and a computer terminal in the engineering and “site support” office, miles of closely-printed spreadsheets and, with no further training whatsoever, sent me off in search of stuff nobody else had been able to find.
So, what does an expeditor actually do?
Well, for the sake of this explanation, an expeditor is someone (i.e. me) who uses barely-synchronised, largely incompatible computer databases, the expertise of more experienced engineers, planners and quality inspectors and any other form of corporate crib sheet they have available to them, to physically track down components that are holding up the assembly of a larger part, one which is already late for delivery, either to our external customers, (Boeing, Airbus, etc) or to one of the many smaller sub-contractors who carry out further processes prior to the component being fitted to the finished aircraft.
None of which sounds especially exciting.
And it’s not.
However, after having spent the first few days chasing around the huge factory site on the world’s least thrilling wild goose chase, looking for errant parts and their attendant reams of traceability paperwork, (every manufactured component in the aerospace world has insane quantities of accompanying records, tracing every last moment of its life) I’d realised that there was more to this job than meets the eye.
For a start, I now had a clipboard!
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, you think I’m getting delusions of grandeur because I get to carry around a piece of plastic-covered hardboard with a bulldog clip on top of it.
But I carefully restrained myself from becoming “one of those assholes”, as they are so charmingly referred to by almost everyone who’s ever had to deal with any of the self-important, egotistical little megalomaniacs who instantly become mini-Hitlers when supplied with any form of business-related office accessory.
No, I determined early on that I would become the first of a unique breed; a Non-Offensive-Management-Mandated-Shop-Floor-Liaison-Man-of-the-People.
Which is a difficult thing to achieve when everyone automatically says; “Oh great, another asshole with a clipboard.” the first time you go near them.
Plus, of course, I had no idea what I was doing.
To say my training was minimal would be passing up an opportunity to use words like “non-existent” or “infinitesimal”, because as far as I could tell, they weren’t keen to train me for anything.
The HR manager, with whom I had to consult regularly, mumbled ominously about “contractual obligations” and the fact that I hadn’t been transferred, I was “just on temporary secondment” and shouldn’t assume I’d found a new job. Because, as he kept telling me, this job didn’t exist, they were magnanimously letting me do all the legwork and aimlessly search for all the stuff they had lost, purely out of the kindness of their hearts and sooner or later they would be expecting me to return to my “proper job”.
So I think he was slightly taken aback when I informed him flat out that I was not going back to doing any sort of activity that would re-inflame the injury in my arms and wrists. (I’d also done many other jobs, with similar tools and similar manual processes, for well over twenty years and I was “getting too old for this shit”, to quote Danny Glover in every Lethal Weapon movie)
I made it abundantly clear that I was a realist and appreciated that they couldn’t create a job out of thin air, but I was flexible, intelligent and willing to learn.
Surely they could find me something to do?
Well who would have thought it, but after a few weeks of chasing hundreds of parts, paired with hundreds of pieces of paper, containing thousands of serial numbers, in dozens of locations all over the site, I actually began to enjoy my fictitious job.
When I started this new role, working in a different part of the factory complex, most of the staff, management included, didn’t know me from a hole in the ground, and because I am one of the minority who choose not to wear “corporate workwear” supplied by the company, I could turn up at meetings with my clipboard and casual attire and barely draw a puzzled glance from the real Planning and Logistics staff as they went about their bewildering business.
And the whole time I was absorbing all this technical and numeric gibberish, via some kind of mental osmosis, until one day I realised that I could actually understand what they were on about.
And I was interested too.
I hadn’t expected that.
I’m aware that this may not be the most riveting subject for a blog post, but I’ve got the blogging bug again and it is the Diary of an Internet Nobody after all, so I thought I’d update you on my life and get some writing practice in at the same time.
I’ll finish up next time when, against all reasonable expectation, I will win Employee of the Week.