On April 25th, exactly four months after Christmas Day, nearly 1,200 high school sophomores from our area will open four presents and hope that at least one of them isn’t a lump of coal.
The BASICS/Rotary Career Fair will invade the Blair County Convention Center on that day and representatives from eighty-six viable careers will be on-hand to help unravel the mysteries of gainful employment. From that number, each student was permitted to select four. There are few indications that those selections were based on advanced research, consideration of personal skills and abilities or the job market. Most student comments were of the “that looks like fun” variety. Who can blame them?
Whenever a parent or a teacher expresses concern that young people don’t understand the urgency of finding a consistent sense of direction on the career path, I tell them a story that leaves them shaking their head. It is about what happens when you’re waiting for your ship to come in and a bus shows-up instead. It is the story of my career path and it’s too ridiculous not to be true.
It began innocently enough. I had an interest in writing, I earned a degree in Journalism and my first job was with a newspaper. More specifically I was hired three days after my college graduation as Advertising Manager of The Catholic Register, the official publication of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.
Within a year I was promoted to managing editor when the staff was downsized from eight people to three. My responsibilities were merely to write all the stories, take all the photos, sell all the advertising and do all the layouts. It was the perfect job for a young, single person who loved the flexibility of being able to produce my own newspaper without the burden of a high salary. That is to say, it was almost the perfect job.
I was employed at the Catholic Register for nine years when a rather unusual incident took place. I was one feature story short as a publication deadline approached so I made arrangements to walk from my office to Garvey Manor Nursing Home, a hike of about thirty yards, to interview Garvey’s Finance Director, Dick Carnicella. Dick was marking a significant anniversary of being hired and agreed to pretend that my interest in featuring him wasn’t the result of time-induced desperation.
While seated in the lobby at Garvey Manor, waiting for Dick to return from lunch, I noticed that the facility’s administrator was beckoning me back to her office. Sister Serafino Besozzi, a Carmelite nun, was someone that I had heard about but had never met. Her reputation of being a sweet person with a heart-of-gold was something I was able to verify almost from our first meeting.
As I entered Sister Serafino’s office, she offered me a seat. She then got right to the point.
“What makes you think you can be my Personnel Director?” she wanted to know. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“Nothing. Nothing makes me think I can be your Personnel Director.”
She looked confused. “Aren’t you here to interview for the Personnel Director’s job?”
“No sister,” I responded, my good Catholic school upbringing rising to the occasion. “I’m here to interview Dick Carnicella for a feature story in the Catholic Register.”
We had a good laugh, yet the conversation wasn’t over. She explained that Garvey Manor had just undergone a union organizing effort and to appease the employees, the Personnel Director and the Director of Nursing had been let-go. Sister Serafino was looking for someone to calm the situation. She evidently had no intention of wasting any more time, even if it meant hiring the wrong person.
“What about you?” she asked me, flashing a nervous smile.
I laughed out loud. Surely she was kidding.
“Sister, I know nothing about personnel administration. Correction. I know less than nothing.” She was not deterred.
“Sister Catherine can teach you whatever you need to know.” Her resolve was unbelievable. I felt like I was talking to God.
“I will give it some thought,” was all I could say.
Since I have a space limitation with this column, I will wrap up by saying that my story interview with Dick Carnicella was my last as an employee of the Catholic Register. I started my employment at Garvey Manor, fittingly so, on April 1, 1986. It was that same day that Sister Catherine confided in me that she also knew nothing about personnel administration.
“I don’t know why Serafino thinks that,” she admitted. “I really don’t have a clue.”
I stayed at Garvey Manor eight years, flew-by-the-seat-of-my pants an incredible number of times on HR matters, was actually asked to speak at a national HR conference, and only left Garvey to accept a Nursing Home Administrator’s position with ALSM.
How did I get to the Chamber? A story for another time. In many ways it’s every bit as unbelievable. Worrying about choosing the wrong career path as a tenth grader? Stop worrying. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll find your nun.
Joe Hurd is President/CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.