Tag Archives: Google

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Office Furniture

February 24, 2017 by

A Survival Guide

Office furniture dealerships work with companies large and small to reshape their work environments. Here are some observations to keep in mind once the walls have come down.

Variety is key

Don’t just scrap the panels: Effective open-plan work areas need to offer a range of spaces. A “layered” approach may work best. Provide spaces for those people who really need quiet to focus, whether they just find it easier to work in quiet or they are more introverted. Successful spaces work when everyone in the company, regardless of personality or role, feels comfortable and confident in accomplishing their work.

Plan for the entire space, not just the corners

Create “enclaves” for collaborative working while making sure those spaces do not disrupt people sitting nearby. While it is important to provide areas for private/personal time, do not place them so far away that the trek to reach them is not worth it. Create “adjacencies,” spaces offering a phone booth or enclave where you are not walking more than 20 feet to reach them.

Design to meet your company goals

Your company needs to ask: What are our goals? “More collaboration” is a start, but “more collaboration between the product team and the sales team” is a goal that you can design your office around. Companies today often say they want to be more like Google. What is it about the workspaces at Google that you find appealing, and is that something your office’s culture can embrace? It may be more important to uncover how the company identity is expressed through physical space.

Establish Rules

It’s not enough to create spaces; you have to enforce boundaries. Open spaces create noise.  There’s just no getting around it.  Rules may be needed about how areas can be used. Certain spots for working in require a “no phone call” rule.  No exceptions!  It sounds very corporate and Big Brother to some people, but when you are working in an open space, protocols can be very important.

Get bosses out of offices

Sometimes managers may still need to function behind closed doors, but letting higher-ups spend their days inside old-fashioned private offices while employees work in the open sends a bad message. It also isolates them from the very benefits open plans promise. Once exposed to this new approach to the workplace, many executives say, “Wow, I’ve learned more about my own company in two weeks than I did in the past two years.”

While open-plan offices do not fit every company’s culture, they have come a long way from the “cubicle farms” of the past. More importantly, they are delivering an increasingly comfortable way to work.

Doug Schuring is the director of sales administration at All Makes Office Equipment Co.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

The 2016 Misery Olympics

August 26, 2016 by

I love the term “Misery Olympics” and wish I’d thought of it first. Google it and you will get “about 660,000” results, but who has time to get to the bottom of that rabbit hole? Basically, the Misery Olympics represent the braggadocio of overachievers.

Laura Vanderkam wrote an article in the May 16 edition of The New York Times that references this phenomenon with statistics from the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review. The MLR, a publication of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that people estimating 75-plus hour workweeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours—in other words, they WAY overestimated. It turns out, based on self-reported time tracking, many people work far less than they think they do.

Why do we brag/lie/misestimate/overestimate about working so many hours? Wouldn’t working fewer hours be much more brag-worthy? Are we still so chained to 20th century ideas about work and self-sacrifice that we believe the Misery Olympics are worth winning?

I coach many entrepreneurs who are especially stuck in this cycle of over-work—real and imagined—that is entirely of their own making. They find no solace in their “gold medals” anymore. The thing these entrepreneurs worked so hard to avoid has become just that: a job.

Is it possible to boycott the Misery Olympics?

Important question. The famed millennials may have the key. They don’t “get” the correlation between productivity and time spent in a cube because they produce differently: faster and simpler. They leverage technology and, most of all, put family and friends first. The lines between work and play, socializing and networking, are much more fluid. And their lives are—based on my own four millennials—much less miserable.

Ready to boycott the Misery Olympics? You can!

I’m working with a client in Philadelphia whose primary goal in 2016 is to run his contracting business entirely from his boat, a salty 43-foot trawler named “Slow Poke” that he sails in Chesapeake Bay.

A long-time client and old friend has structured his market-leading commercial cleaning company so he can spend much more time with his wife and five children (ages 3-13) and much less time in the office. He and his family are now writing a book and launching a website to help other families follow suit.

I took my own advice and experimented with my own business—I wrote this article from a beautiful medieval town in northern Italy where I have worked and played all summer.

So, how does it feel to be a big loser in the Misery Olympics? Pretty terrific. B2B

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

New Management for the New Millennium

June 7, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kids today…they’re entitled, disrespectful brats who can’t write a complete sentence and are always playing with their phones.

Harumph.

You know, those so-called Millennials born between 1980 and 2000 with the silver spoons in their mouths. The ones who lost, but still got a trophy. The ones doing all the Snapchatting, Tweeting, and Tinder-swiping.

They roll in late, take long lunches, and then leave early. Then they whine for a pat on the back.

Funny thing is, none of that is really true. It’s just a variation on what every older generation likes to say about “kids these days.”

We are surrounded by Millennials—about 55.9 million of them are in the workforce today, the largest of any cohort. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers number about 49 million in each group, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Millennial1WebEvery year it grows increasingly more probable that a millennial is signing paychecks. They’re making important decisions at businesses everywhere. BVH Architects, for example, is announcing a restructuring of their organization this month. This includes putting into key positions people such as 35-year-old Mark Bacon, their new creative director.

To understand the influences a Millennial might have as a manager in the workplace is to understand that Millennials are just a product of their parents and the times—times that have seen remarkable technological advances in the last 30 years, taking us from rotary phones and fax machines to the wonders of Google and the full breadth of human knowledge readily accessible from even the cheapest smartphone.

Alec Levenson, a Yale-educated economics professor at the University of Southern California, has studied generational differences for most of his career. His book, What Millennials Want from Work, carries one inescapable theme: “Millennials want what older generations have always wanted—an interesting job that pays well, where they work with people they like and trust, have access to development and the opportunity to advance, are shown appreciation on a regular basis, and don’t have to leave.”

While they may not be all that different from those who came before them, they are a complex mix of privilege and disadvantage. They came of age as the smartest and most educated—but also the most indebted—generation ever, during one of the worst U.S. economic periods since the Depression.

It’s a tough world out there for Millennials, made tougher by skeptical older generations who are unwilling to step back.

Kristin Streff Barnett, 33, is the director of Employment Services at First National Bank. She manages a couple of millennials, but most of her staff consists of people in the Gen X or Baby Boomer classifications.  As a manager, she invokes a laid back style and tries to be as flexible as possible.

“I am more relaxed than my team desires at times,” she says. “The bank is not the most important thing in your life.”

Nonetheless, she understands that as a younger manager, she needs to built trust and credibility with any team she manages.

“There’s a certain amount of proving yourself I have to do,” Barnett says. “I don’t see that as part of my age. I’ve had seven years of management experience, and I think it’s gotten easier with time.”

Although Barnett works at a bank, the dress codes and flexibility of the company have become more relaxed as the company evolves. She has been known to wear a suit, but she won’t be seen in flip flops at the office. And she knows how to answer an office telephone and leave voice mail.

Bacon is transitioning from a non-management position to managing a team of 52, but he doesn’t see himself barking orders at minions. “It’s not hierarchical, it’s much more about collaboration and integration with project teams.”

Moving millennials into management is often more important than bosses realize. Brandi Goldapp, the 45-year-old owner of  Omaha event planning firm, A View Premier Event Venues, needed help connecting with a younger generation. After decades of success in the industry, something changed.

“Our product didn’t change,” she said. “But there was a disconnect.”

She realized something. Her clients were millennials, who nationally account for roughly 81 million people—many of whom are now entering the life stages of marriage and building families.

So she put a few Millennials in charge.

Her business has now expanded to two additional locations, including the construction of an entirely new building. Most of their venues are booked solid several months in advance, and most of that traces back to the tireless energy of her management team—a pair of dynamo Millennials.

“I believe my business is as successful as it is because of them,” Goldapp said.

Staying ahead of the curve usually involves keeping a close eye on a smartphone, which can be aggravating for the older set. But those phones are for more than Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. The gadgets allow them to be constantly “on the clock,” accessing email, contacts, documents, and calendars. Anywhere, anytime.

The tradeoff? Just as they don’t mind working from home, they expect the boss to accept some of their personal life bleeding into work.

“I think it’s important to remember how important all aspects of their lives are to them,” Barnett says.

Nonetheless, they want to work. Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

“That people are forgetting the fact that there’s still integrity at work,” says Rachel Tew, the 28-year-old tattooed marketing specialist at Mid-America Center. “My work stays at work, but my mind is always looking at opportunities. An older generation believed in work…If I have a deadline, I never miss a deadline.”

Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

Goldapp promoted Millennials in her event planning business as she started developing plans for a new building to accommodate the company’s growth. She brought in her young protégées for input. Together they sketched plans on napkins and visited the construction site.

Goldapp described the process from her small 12-feet x 12-feet office in the new building. She shares the space with her two managers. It’s crammed with two desks and a small fridge. One wall is painted bright orange, another is painted gold, and she loves every bit of it.

“I’ve never had an office,” Goldapp said with a wide grin. It never even occurred to her to include it in the plans, but it did to her 24-year-old sales manager, Britney McRoberts, who had to make a workspace wherever she could.

McRoberts laughed as she recalled the conversation with Goldapp: “If you want us to work smarter and not harder,” McRoberts said, “then we need a desk and a place where we can shut a door. And then you need to paint the walls gold.”

McRoberts also helped rebrand the business, which continued to grow. That meant there was going to be more work for everyone, but not enough to justify hiring more help. Goldapp said they didn’t complain, or ask for raises. They saw the bigger picture.

The bigger issue for Levenson is that problems with management in the workplace are systemic.

“One of the biggest problems we have in organizations,” he said, “is that people get put into frontline management roles without any evidence that they can actually work as managers.”

Corporate policies for hiring, training, and retaining talented leaders leave a lot to be desired across the board, not just Millennials. Changing policies and practices that benefit Millennials would benefit all, he said.

Goldapp laughs at the idea of generalizing the Millennial generation in anything less than flattering terms.

“If you want your business to survive, you better make some changes,” she said.

Goldapp put down a few swaths of gold paint, had a few conversations, outlined expectations, and let the kids take care of the rest.

Retaining Your Rock Stars

December 22, 2015 by

The fastest way for companies to drive away rock star talent is well documented:
micromanage them.

To retain them forever? Also well documented: coach them.

Well documented by whom, you ask? None other than two of the world’s top trendsetters
in management and corporate culture: Google and ADM.

Archer Daniels Midland?

Yeah. So, let’s start with Google.

In 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen, a research initiative to understand how its most successful managers manage. For a full year Google’s statisticians data-mined more than 10,000 quantitative observations of ideal manager behaviors.

As Laszlo Bock, then Google vice president of people operations, said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier, and do everything better. The biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager. So what if every manager was that good?”

One year later, Google came to some telling conclusions. Managers that naturally practiced an empowering style of trusting rock stars to perform like rock stars were considerably more successful than those who hovered over their direct reports as if they were incompetent children.

To train underperforming coaches, Google hired coaches from my alma mater, CTI, in San Francisco.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” Bock said in the same article. The remaining 25% of the managers who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—learn to coach don’t manage anymore.

Their 33,000-plus rock stars now perform at a much higher level than before and are much more likely to be retained by Google. And Google is among the 10 most profitable companies in the Fortune 500.

But what about ADM and their like-sized team of 30,000 rock stars?

While the notion of “coaching” may conjure up images of Silicon Valley start-ups with meditation rooms and beer on tap, ADM, the 112-year-old agri-business colossus based in Decatur, Illinois, is one of the leading proponents of “coaching-based performance improvement.”

While Google launched Project Oxygen in 2009, ADM initiated Coaching to Win (CTW), a program to train managers to coach direct reports that inverted the traditional, top-down management technique.

Since then, CTW has reaped breakthrough ideas to cut costs, improve efficiency, and increase the bottom line. If lower costs and higher profits don’t sell you on this style of coaching, maybe eliminating the annual torture of performance reviews will.

According to CTW creator, Jane Pierce, ADM’s former vice president of talent development, “A far better use of management time than reviewing past performance is coaching rock stars to high performance in real time throughout the day.”

A meta-analysis by Bersin & Associates found that corporations which employ a coaching management style have 21% better overall business results than peer companies.

In markets like Omaha, which enjoys virtually full employment even after ConAgra’s cuts, it’s very much a rock star’s market. So hire rock stars and treat them as such to enjoy the highest retention rates.

Handle them like incompetent children, especially in Omaha, and you won’t be handling them for long.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Flexing Some Muscle

June 2, 2015 by

Article originally published in Summer 2015 edition of B2B.

Tim McGill used to tag along with his dad to various job sites. He liked watching the cement masons mix, pour, and work the mixture into a heavy, viscous mass before swirling it over cracks and crevices to a smooth finish—pretty cool stuff to a little guy.

McGill was 7 years old when his father, Tim Sr., started McGill Restoration, a structural concrete repair, masonry repair, and waterproofing company. At 15, he started working for his dad in the field. He labored on commercial and industrial facilities for the next seven years until earning a construction engineering degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

McGill and his older brother, Rich, now own the company their father started. They’re busy—that’s the good news. But a virtual sign constantly hovers over the company’s Grebe Street location in Florence:

Help Wanted.

FlexingMuscle5

“We’re always hiring,” says McGill, who pays what he calls very competitive wages.  “Our company has been around 30 years and finding people who want to be a craftsman their entire life and dedicate themselves to a trade has always been tough. But it seems to get tougher every year.”

Contractors across America echo McGill’s frustrations. The numbers bear witness. A survey conducted last fall by the Associated General Contractors of America shows 83% of firms nationwide report difficulty finding craft and trade workers: electricians, plumbers, tile setters, welders, carpenters, bricklayers, roofers—the list goes on and on. Midwest businesses reported even greater problems filling positions. Amazingly, all 18 companies surveyed in Nebraska by the AGCA said they had job openings they couldn’t fill.

“I have personally been involved in projects that turned away from Omaha because we couldn’t provide the skilled workers that they need,” says Bill Owen, board chairperson of the Downtown Improvement District.

Owen’s full-time job, however, puts him in a position to do something about the skilled labor shortage. As associate vice president for effectiveness and engagement at Metropolitan Community College, Owen helps guide an ambitious $90 million job-training expansion.“It’s a huge project for us,” he says.

The first iron beams currently rising from the dirt on the south end of Metro’s Fort Omaha location signal the beginning of three buildings being constructed simultaneously. When it becomes operational (hopefully in late 2017), the complex will provide more space and state-of-the-art equipment for career and technical training—a modern moniker for the kind of training once called vo-tech, or vocational education. The buildings will house an academic skills center, a center for advanced and emerging technology, and a construction education center, effectively consolidating all the trades and technology programs at the main campus in North Omaha.

“There’s not a career that technology doesn’t play a role in,” says Owen, explaining the importance of Metro’s new advanced and emerging technology center. “The laptop computer is part of the tool pouch for the trades or crafts person.”

FlexingMuscle3

Blue-collar trades like welding or pipefitting, once considered about as contemporary and relevant as a VHS tape, are not only in demand, they have been re-booted to add electronic brains to the traditional brawn. Metro actually has a welding machine that requires no welding rod, no flame, and no spark, giving the student a completely virtual welding experience.

The 100,000-square-foot construction education center will feature a large, shared space for students to work on projects such as building modular homes. Sections will include electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and carpentry work.

“Metropolitan Community College has always been here serving the career and technical student needs,” says Owen. “It’s now much more apparent to other members of the community just how important that role is.”

Metro’s vision captured the attention of a very powerful member of Omaha’s community— the Knights of AKSARBEN Foundation, the area’s premier philanthropic organization consisting of a broad swath of business and civic leaders. Now in its 120th year, the Knights of AKSARBEN has evolved into a facilitator of education, focusing its scholarship largesse on high school students who often don’t have doors opened for them. When Metro announced its skilled-trades expansion, AKSARBEN saw an opening to expand its brand.

Championed by reigning King of AKSARBEN Michael Yanney, and nurtured by the board of governors, the foundation recently launched a pilot post-secondary scholarship initiative to funnel deserving students to Metro’s skilled trades and technology offerings.

“The AKSARBEN Scholars Career Connectors program is an effort to hit two needs within our community,” explains foundation president Jonathan Burt. “One is the need for more skilled and technical workers as well as a need to address the high pockets of poverty that we know still exist in our Omaha community.”

Working with current scholarship partner the Horatio Alger Association and a new partner, Avenue Scholars Foundation of Omaha, AKSARBEN hopes to award at least 150 two-year scholarships worth up to $8,000 by this fall. Career Connectors has also partnered with the Iowa West Foundation and Iowa Western Community College, a union that’s likely to add 30 to 35 students to the effort.

“Avenue Scholars, embedded in seven schools, identifies students who come from a high-needs background but who have a defined interest in a career path,” says Burt. “Those students can then apply for a Career Connectors scholarship.”

Burt and Avenue Scholars President Dr. Kenneth Bird, both educators by profession, understand the mindset of 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds. They know a student may go to Metro with one career in mind and then choose a different path, perhaps going into the distribution, management, or business end of things. That’s to be expected. And it doesn’t matter whether a student uses the scholarship money to take a six-week certification course, a six-month course or to acquire a two-year associate’s degree. “As long as the student exits the program with a skill set needed for a quality career, one that can open them up to a middle class lifestyle, then (the program) will be a success,” says Burt.

Through the generosity of the Knights of AKSARBEN and the innovation of Metropolitan Community College, scholarship winners will discover what many young adults haven’t: a career in the trades can mean money. “Department of Labor data, not self-reporting data, show our graduates in the construction trades, just one to two years out from our program, earn between $36,000 and $39,000 a year,” says Owen, pointing to scads of graphs and spread sheets. In the trades, experience counts more than education, leading Owen to pose, “Imagine what your salary will be when you’re 10 years out.”

FlexingMuscle2

Manual labor can also mean longevity. Those same Labor Department numbers project a 27 percent increase in skilled labor jobs through 2020. Certainly the big-ticket building boom on both sides of Missouri—the $400 million Google project in Council Bluffs, the $1.2 billion StratCom headquarters in Bellevue, and the $323 million cancer center in Omaha—define a golden age in the Midlands. People who do have the skills are already employed.]

So what’s the problem? Why aren’t more young adults going into the trades? The explanation
has many parts, some more sociological than economic.

“The shortage actually started 20 to 30 years ago—long before the Great Recession,” according to Dr. Eric Thompson, an economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “As we become more of a service economy, fewer and fewer children have parents who were blue-collar workers. People did more of their own home repairs back then and they tinkered with cars. Young people were picking up skill sets as they watched their parents and transitioning to those occupations.”

Thompson also points out that young adults are staying single longer now, making them more inclined to take a chance on a career, “that may be less steady but potentially more exciting and rewarding.” The cyclical nature of construction and manufacturing, so vulnerable to downturns, makes young people hesitant, he says.

Another part of the equation—a big one—involves education. “Those of us in the education community have been steering teenagers toward four-year degrees,” says Thompson. Latching onto that explanation, Bill Owen adds, “It isn’t just the high schools. In many cases, it’s the parents who feel, ‘Well, my child is going to aim higher than a trade job and is going to aim for a profession.’”

As someone who came up through the trades before parlaying his associate’s degree into a master’s degree in education from Iowa State, Owen sees the pendulum swinging the other way. “These jobs were looked down on in the past. And now people are really beginning to admire and respect those who can do things with their hands because it’s almost a lost art. Perception has changed.”

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The Break-Point Generation

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not an uncommon tradition. The Roemmich family gathers every year for a reunion. It’s also not uncommon at such reunions to have boxes of black-and-white photos of family members no one can identify any more.

So Ron Roemmich decided to create a video cataloging all the family he and his siblings still could name—a historical record for the younger generations.

Just one problem. Ron didn’t know how to create this video.

Ron and his wife, Berdeen, signed up for a movie-making class at Metro Community College. Their class was taught by Laurie Brodeur, a semi-retired Millard teacher who now leads six technology courses in Metro’s continuing education curriculum.

Although Brodeur was “very gracious with senior citizens,” Ron admits to feeling behind the other eight or nine students—and like he was taking up a lot of Brodeur’s attention during the class period.

“I suppose the real confession is: We had her come back and help us after the class was over,” he says.

“We’re kind of the break-point generation. People 10 years younger than us are probably okay. But anybody over 60, I bet 50 percent know what they’re doing [with computers].” – Ron Roemmich

Having a project with a firm deadline made learning the program an imperative goal. “It was fun, but it would be desperately frustrating if you didn’t have a goal,” Ron says. And though they had 500 photos, “It was not gonna whip us.”

The Roemmiches were pleased with their final product. In fact, they made two more videos for a reunion of Ron’s doctoral classmates, making good use of their new movie-making skills.

Even so, Ron says, “We’ve explored I’d say 1 percent of what a computer can do for us.”

The Roemmiches do have a Facebook account but only check it when their kids tell them to. After checking their 100-200 e-mails per day, Berdeen says, “you don’t want to go on Facebook. You’re just tired.”

“We’re kind of the break-point generation,” Ron says. “People 10 years younger than us are probably okay. But anybody over 60, I bet 50 percent know what they’re doing—or would that be 20 percent? Not a lot.”

It doesn’t take much to fall behind in technology. “When it could have burst open for me,” Ron says, “would have been in the ’80s maybe. But my boss was afraid of computers, so he told the rest of us we should leave them alone. So we really got behind. And now we don’t even know the language.”

Along with computers are phones, televisions, and other electronic systems. Like the DVR the Roemmiches got for Christmas and don’t really understand how to use.

Asking people for help is the best way Berdeen knows to learn something new. That and practicing. “You just have to keep using it and trying different things,” she says.

Brodeur is one of those people the Roemmiches will ask for help. And she would agree with Berdeen: Practice and patience are key.

“Students can see their progression from one class to the next and enjoy being able to go home and try their skills and return to the next class in the series with questions.” – Emily Getzschman, marketing and media relations manager with Omaha Public Library

Among her Metro classes is a series of technology update courses for seniors (although non-seniors are of course also welcome). The first class is broad, covering things like the difference between a browser and a search engine; the many uses of Google; and introductions to some sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Hulu. It helps students become comfortable using the computer.

Exploring those sites is important, Brodeur says, because “you can use Google and YouTube to learn how to do almost anything on your computer.”

The second and third levels help set students up with Facebook accounts and learn more and more about using the program.

Brodeur loves to see her students have an “aha” moment and tries to always stress that no question is a stupid one. This is important, because adults rarely like to admit when they don’t know something. Overall, she says, it is a very positive experience because her students come eager to learn with optimistic attitudes.

Omaha Public Library also offers computer classes for beginners and older adults. OPL partners with AARP for a series that gives an introduction to computers, including training on Microsoft Word, e-mail, and the internet. Seniors who are not new to computers can take classes for specialized software to manipulate photos, create greeting cards, and learn how to use social media tools, like Facebook and Pinterest. Classes can even aid seniors who are unexpectedly re-entering the job market.

Emily Getzschman, marketing and media relations manager for OPL, says that the introductory classes offered in a series are very well-attended. “Students can see their progression from one class to the next and enjoy being able to go home and try their skills and return to the next class in the series with questions and to build on their new computer experiences,” Getzschman says.

Classes are free, with no limit on the number of times you can take them. And they’re offered every month.

Like at Metro, the library class instructors strive to make students feel supported, never stupid. Getzschman has heard students say the instructors “were patient and let the student work at a comfortable pace.”

 

A resource guide for seniors can be found at http://guides.omahalibrary.org/Seniors.

Dogs at Work

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For millennia, humans have used dogs for a myriad of purposes—as guides, as friends, even as surrogate children, which is increasingly common in 21st-century America.

But coworker? Office buddy? Cubicle K9?

“I’ve heard of companies letting you bring your dogs to work in other parts of the country,” says Nicholle Reisdorff, owner of the full-service doggie boarding house and playground, Dogtopia. “In Omaha? I bring my dogs to work. Many of the vet clinics allow it. But not much beyond animal-centric businesses as far as I know.”

Apparently, Omaha is behind the curve compared to the coasts regarding the increasingly common company policy of allowing employees to bring their dogs to work.

The biggest employer in the greater metro area to allow pets is Google, which allows dogs at its Council Bluffs data center, as well as its other facilities across the country.

Google allows dogs at work, Google spokeswoman Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg says, because the company recognizes that dogs in the workplace can often enhance the quality of employees’ work lives.

“I totally agree with the concept that having your dog is a stress reliever and likely something that makes you happier at work.” – Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg, Google spokeswoman

The presence of dogs has been a “unique and treasured” part of the company’s culture, she explains.

Yes, there are restrictions. The company’s dog policy rests on respect for other employees and visitors at Google facilities, she says. Dogs must be properly licensed, vaccinated, supervised, and leashed at all times.

Although Google has been able to pull off the dogs-at-work concept for years (as have numerous Silicon Valley companies among others), Reisdorff says she can imagine problems in some workplaces with certain types of dogs.

“I totally agree with the concept that having your dog is a stress reliever and likely something that makes you happier at work,” she says. “But I wonder about those potential impacts on those around you.”

Such a “dogs-at-work” program is part of the broader trend of humans increasingly treating their pets as “basically their children,” she says.

You’ve seen those couples who talk to their dogs as if they were little offspring and take them to nice doggy daycares like, say, Dogtopia.

Why the growing attachment to dogs in our society?

“I think with people getting married later, with people having children later, you more and more have the pets playing the role of children in peoples’ lives,” she says. “And there’s just the simple fact that dogs are such super-social beings, so full of love. Once you love a dog, it’s hard not to want to pamper them and be with them as much as possible.”