4 FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Randy Jackson came to sociology after a long and circuitous journey. Perhaps even more interesting, Randy works for the IRS; that's the Internal Revenue Service! There is a certain atypicality in Randy's career, both its path and its destination, and that is something Randy wants others to know. "There is not a typical career path anymore. Yes, there are people whose careers have developed predictably, but these people tend to be at the end of their work lives. And their work life is not a realistic model for people now entering the work force. " Randy says that, "Change is the watchword, and sociology is one of the few disciplines which addresses change
It is not enough to simply anticipate that some kind of change will occur. According to Randy, you must be more proactive than that. Waiting on change to strike could easily leave you totally out of the picture. "One must actively participate in creating or `designing' change. In this way you can influence how change will affect you and those around you."
When reviewing Randy's "career" it is easy to see how he has come to this point of view. Randy's college and early adult life took shape during the 1960's when major social movements shook the nation. As important as the changes themselves was Randy's development of skills of questioning and applying the critical eye to any social norm or structure. Randy's undergraduate degree was in history, and one year later he earned an M.A., also in history. If it were not for the phenomenon of change, then history, as a discipline, would lose much, if not all of its value. In its place tradition would suffice. It was in history that Randy first began considering the broad scope of societal change. And, he was living it during the civil rights movement of the 1960's. It was in the living of it that Randy came to some dissatisfaction with academic history. The scope was too
broad. He wanted to "take hold of the trends, the patterns, the personal styles of people. It was important to exercise some influence over them. "
After earning his masters degree Randy served in Vietnam.
There he saw another example of how people can easily be caught up in patterns, and changes to those patterns, that they do not understand. His role in army administration provided opportunity to make changes, but he lacked training or understanding of the process. After his discharge Randy enrolled for a short time in seminary. Here one could begin dealing with the ultimate "why's" of social values and processes, if not with the "how's." While seminary may have been helpful in some regards, it did not deal sufficiently with the specific social processes which Randy wanted to get his hands on.
Randy quit seminary and enrolled in a special IRS administrative intern program. This move was not directly correlated to his past educational experience, but Randy did have administrative experience in the army. In this internship Randy received specialized training in labor relations, personnel relations, human resource management, and work design. Here Randy could see the real impact of work on people's lives, and that he could have a professional and fulfilling career in work design. Completion of the internship led to employment with the IRS. However, encountering the problems and issues of IRS administration led Randy back to school where he earned his Ph.D. in sociology, with a focus on organization and occupations.
As a human resource manager Randy is constantly trying to adjust the organization, the IRS, in ways that benefit both the individual and the organization. For example, Randy works at developing the idea of work as an occupation. According to Randy, "If you have 10,000 computer operators within the organization, and they have no sense of common occupation, then you simply have 10,000 individual employees. This can be a most difficult situation because the organization, and its administration, depends significantly on the self–organization that a real sense of occupation can instill in a worker." What this means is that as a member of an occupation an individual worker is always "connected" to other workers who have the same work experiences. Because of this network workers can help each other find their way around an organization, they can educate each other regarding specific work skills, or they can simply share their feelings, even their gripes, about their work. But beyond this, the idea of occupation conveys both identity and structural position. Perhaps the best way to understand these two concepts is to illustrate them in the negative.
The first piece of information we often seek about someone is their name. The next piece of information we seek is occupation. Now, assume you have no job, or you have just lost one. What happens? You feel a lack of identity. The point is, according to Randy, "Our occupation becomes part of our identity. Therefore, we must take care of how occupations are defined and managed." Perhaps even more importantly, "We must be careful when occupations are poorly managed because it is possible that a significant portion of one's identity could be lost. This is much more than organizational development, it is human development."
A second concept, structural position, refers to how the occupation fits into the broader organization. According to Randy, "Too often people see a job as a set of tasks, such as operating a computer or some other machine. An occupation gives you a role within the organization, and you begin to see just how your specific job fits in with the rest of the work being done." Such a perspective influences all kinds of work– life experiences, like interdepartmental cooperation. For example, imagine the ability of some company's administration to function without the constant contributions of physical plant staff, including janitorial and maintenance. For that matter, how would a manager function without assistants or secretaries? The point is, each occupation has a role to play, and a clear understanding of that role is essential to fulfillment of that role.
In general it is Randy's job to see to it that all of these aspects of occupation are made functional within the IRS. He does this in a surprisingly wide variety of ways. One of the most common ways is through interorganizational requests. One kind of request is for his skill set; the other is for his perspective. According to Randy, he is "often approached by people in the organization because they have a need for some skill I have. For example, someone will want to collect data from employees on some issue and will want to conduct a survey. That's when they call me." The problem is, most people have little or no idea of what goes into survey construction and administration. "In other cases," says Randy, "someone will have data they need analyzed, but do not have the statistical background to do the analysis. Or, they may need to present some data in a report, but they have little or no idea what the data mean, let alone how to present it to others who may know even less. The point is, my methodological skills often attract others to me. I see these as opportunities to introduce my perspective, my sociological point of view on the issue at hand."
This last point, perspective or point of view, is where Randy sees his fundamental contribution. His work is usually conducted within the context of a small group of human resource managers. Others in the group are psychologists, social psychologists, and ergonomists. One thing in common about these other perspectives is the focus on the individual. To Randy this focus is much too narrow. "Often, in quick informal ways, like over lunch, I put forward my sociological perspective on whatever is up for discussion."
The critical point is that while Randy is a member of
the IRS organization, an actor within it, he is also a constant observer of it. The result is a much broader perspective on behaviors within the organization and its development over time. It is in the framing of specific
organizational issues that impact is achieved. Randy refers to this contribution as "situational." It is not possible to over–haul the entire organization. Randy reports that being confronted with situations in need of relatively immediate solutions, he must exercise a lot of flexibility. "There is always a lot of organizational movement swirling around you, and you are forced into making necessary decisions quickly. You do not have much time for reflection." Hence Randy's sociological perspective gives him a frame of reference for seeing and responding to the situation.
What Randy is doing in the context of the "situation" is
converting the sociological perspective into a skill. The skill is in the framing of situations so that certain kinds of definitions are typically applied. This, however, requires an eclectic set of skills. When asked to advise students regarding coursework which would prepare them for his kind of work Randy's list went on and on, including, research methods, statistics, computer science, conflict resolution, change management, market research, counseling, career development, etc.! To this Randy emphasizes the need for excellent communication skills: "Without the ability to write, speak, present, or simply talk you are without the basic skills necessary to advance your point of view."
The dynamics within any organization are typical of society and its larger institutions. The result is there is always some opportunity opening up somewhere. According to Randy, this is especially true of government. If well prepared, there are plenty of employment opportunities. The B.A. level graduate in sociology definitely has a future, according to Randy, "if the emphasis is on the skills and not the title of sociologist. What people want are results, not titles." Entry level salaries range from $18,000 to $23,000 with promotions after a year advancing those salaries significantly. Graduate degrees, such as the M.A., are especially helpful and can raise salaries into the mid $40,000's. Of course, experience influences salary and Randy strongly recommends the undergraduate internship. Remember this is how Randy latched on to his job with the IRS. However, Randy's perspective on career must be understood. "The idea of a typical career path may be past." For those who are prepared and flexible the future is promising.
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