Jump to content
The Wifcon Forums and Blogs
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Of Capital, Journeymen, and MOTH



As someone who believes that people are the most important part of any organization, it angers me when management unknowingly dehumanizes employees with a term or a title. Terms and titles always seem important to some managements. For example, years ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) adopted the term "human capital" as a replacement for "human resources." Many of the new bits of "capital" at GAO felt demeaned by this new term. They didn't want to feel like an entry on a corporation's balance sheet. Other managements caught on to this new term and began referring to their people as "capital" too. Its everywhere now and many more people are "capital." Recently, I read about an agreement between employees and a management where management agreed to change the term "human capital" back to "human resources." Perhaps other people didn't like to be referred to as "capital" either. I tried searching for the article but couldn't find it. Maybe I was imagining such an article.

That brings me to a speech by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management given on November 2, 2009. This is what has me upset. According to FEDERALTIMES.com, the Director has been thinking of ideas for a new personnel system. According to the article, one new system may have 3 steps: apprentice, journeyman, and expert. Now, the term "apprentice" is nice because it can be viewed as synonymous with someone new to the workforce with a future--possibly an "up-and-comer." The term "expert" is great because it makes a person feel special. That person made it to an important position. But! What professional has strived to be a "journeyman?" What does "journeyman" mean to you? I realize that everyone, at least once, has heard references to a "journeyman" level but it sounds like the "land of lost hope" to me. Who wants to feel hopeless?

In my early years, I would often write something satirical about an idea I didn't like. As something angered me, the more biting my response became. If management had a bad idea, I would substitute my satirical idea for theirs. One day, I decided to "help" GAO with one of its new ideas. GAO's proposal was an idea that combined the worst qualities of "capital" and "journeyman." As I write, I am remembering the concept and believe it was called the "pool member" concept. Under this concept, people, throughout the agency, would be tossed into a "pool" and would be available to work on any assignment, anywhere, for anyone. Needless to say, there were not many volunteers for "pool service." Since I wanted to be helpful, I offered management my own version of the "pool member" concept which I called "MOTH," for "meat on the hook." Briefly, my idea was to build a huge refrigeration unit for the "pool members." Of course, there would be hooks in the refrigeration unit where pool members would be stored until needed. When there was work to be done, a manager would walk into the refrigeration unit and pick specific pool members off of their hooks for the work. I figured that, if we were going to demean the people that did the agency's work, why not really demean them. Let's rub their face in it with the bluntest of terms. Fortunately, MOTH was not adopted but neither was the "pool member" concept.

Human relationships at work are difficult and complex. So, why should any management start off on the wrong foot by demeaning the people that make the organization go by adopting a demeaning "term" or "title?"


Recommended Comments

Guest Vern Edwards


The Oxford English Dictionary defines journeyman in its first sense as: "1. One who, having served his apprenticeship to a handicraft or trade, is qualified to work at it for days' wages; a mechanic who has served his apprenticeship or learned a trade or handicraft, and works at is not on his own account but as the servant or employee or another; a qualified mechanic or artisan who works for another. Distinguished on one side from apprentice, on the other from master." VIII Oxford English Dictionary 2d 282.

The OED defines professional (noun) as follows: "1. One who belongs to one of the learned or skilled professions; a professional man. 2. One who makes a profession or business of any occupation, art, or sport, otherwise usually often engaged in by amateurs, esp. as a pastime[.] 3. A prostitute." XII Oxford English Dictionary 2d 573-4.

I don't object to the use of the word journeyman to refer to contract specialists. I like OPM's proposed scheme. The word professional has been thrown around so loosely as to be virtually meaningless. In the case of the 1102 series it is meaningless indeed. I rarely use the word professional any more when referring to contracting folk--I try to use the word practitioner instead. Many "contracting officers" know so little and have so little skill as to be nothing more than apprentices or, worse, amateurs.

Besides, professionals are often referred to as journeymen. See, e.g., O'Brien, Odyssey of a Journeyman Lawyer (UC Berkeley, 1991) http://www.archive.org/stream/odysseylawye...ririch_djvu.txt. And here's a quote: "After residency, the journeyman physician should continue their learning towards mastery. This journeyman should have some kind of mentor ? formal or informal, one or many. Following residency training, the journeyman should add to their competencies, including better efficiency and effectiveness, better understanding of the business, the assumption of primary responsibility for patient care, the assumption of responsibility for your own professional conduct, the measurement of your own quality improvement, and increased communication skills." http://www.innovationlabs.com/r3p_public/r...1_workteams.htm There are countless references on the Internet to "journeyman engineer."

I was once proud to be called a "journeyman contract specialist." I think it's a fine term. I much prefer apprentice to newbie and think that in today's world expert is better than master. More important than the labels, however, are the definitions and criteria for achievement. Many contracting officers got their certificates with much less effort than it takes to become an Eagle Scout. I wish more contract specialists could honesty be called journeymen.

Link to comment

Appreciate your view, and the info, as I wasn't aware of the "apprentice, journeyman, expert" job designations.

Personally, I am okay with the term journeyman (journey-person?) as to me, it is simply the bridge from apprentice to expert.

Journeyman is the "in the trenches" position that provides the most experience, challenges and learning.

thanks again for all you do for all of us, whether apprentice, journey-person or expert!

Link to comment

Ha HA! MOTH. Good one! I can relate - I'm sure it went over as well as the program name/acronym I suggested for a mostly useless quality assessment program - Contracting Review & Assessment Program.

Link to comment

I have no problem with being called a journeyman, Contract Specialist, work force member, etc.

What I DO have a problem with right now is being called a "clerk", defined as "1. a person employed, as in an office, to keep records, file, type, or perform other general office tasks". I rather resent being called a mere record keeper, file administrator or a general office assistant, but that is exactly what we are called by the CPARS system upon being granted access to that system.

Here is the message I received after registering with the CPARS systems: "You have been granted access to CPARS as a Contract Data Entry clerk by XXX"

If we are supposed to be professionals, business advisors, the masters of our career field, we are certainly not "clerks"!

Link to comment

Quite a while back when I was stationed at Clark AB (Philippines) I was in a unit that deployed often, and every time we returned there was a new headgear policy. The day I returned from a deployment in Thailand, I was wearing jungle fatigues and the floppy hat that went with it -- which was fine when I left for the deployment, but according to the Chief that stopped me, not a valid headgear the day I returned, and he should know because he was in charge of the headgear policy for the base.

So I drafted a bogus suggestion memo recommending a "Special Hat Investigation Team" be formed to weed out the hat transgressions, and I suggested Chief So-and-so be put in charge of the team. I further suggested the Team members wear distinctive tan and brown headgear with the acronym embroidered in gold in the front and of course, since the Chief was in charge, his hat should read SH!T HEAD so we could all understand his role.

My boss got a hold of it and sent it to the Wing Commander. The Wing Commander said the Chief was quite put out when it was shared with him.

Link to comment
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...