Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diversity in Coveralls

I'm still working on my Human Factors course. In typical training film style the cast features maintenance personnel of varying age, sex and ethnicity, acting out little scenarios. I keep wondering if they are starving actors or actual AMTs. The module tells me that assertive statements are honest, open, and direct and "deal with facts (rather than your opinion)."

Assertive body language requires:
- maintaining eye contact
- talking in a strong steady tone of voice with a normal volume
- standing comfortably (relaxed) but firmly
- standing close enough for your presence to be felt but not so close as to be aggressive
- gesturing with your hands (keep your hands out of your pockets)
- using facial expressions which support your statement
Assertive body language will help you stand up for your rights!

Okay, I can be assertive: state the facts, not too submissive, not too aggressive, untainted by my opinion. But then the same page advises me to include statements like "I feel", "I want, "I think." Wait what? Prefacing a fact with "I feel," "I want," or "I think" is a way to reduce the directness and assertiveness of a statement, and turn it into an opinion. Are they trying to tell me that That tire needs to be changed is less assertive and direct than I feel that tire needs to be changed? Did I write that down wrong? I'm told to use assertive statements like: "I felt embarrassed when you criticized me in front of the others." I don't know that there isn't a scenario in which the reply to that is not somewhere between "Man up!" and "Good, so don't screw up again." Maybe, "Would you like a hankie?" Or what about the suggestion to be assertive and telling your supervisor that you need a variety of tasks in order to avoid boredom? Anyone try that?

They don't show those suggestions as a video dialogue. Instead the actors show the right way and wrong way to approach tasks. Guess which this one is:

AMT #1: "I haven't had a chance to do the APU combustion chamber and external inspection. Can I forget about it?"

AMT #2: "Yeah, takes two hours to do it all, and I've never seen a problem with one."

That's very comparable to pilots skipping checklist items. "It's never been a problem," is a ridiculous reason not to check something, but it totally happens.

There's a strange mix of useful and loopy suggestions, leaving me wondering if I'm too cynical to realize that the loopy ones have their uses, or too naive to realize they are all loopy. I'm not even sure whether Most of the pressure generally comes from you. You create the pressure by accepting unreasonable timelines. is sage or the loopy result of someone who doesn't understand that the timelines predate problems. The pilot finds a problem thirty minutes before the airplane is ready to depart. The customer is waiting. At what point does the AMT accept any of this? Clearly Scotty of the USS Enterprise managed pressure by multiplying his repair time estimates by three, but you notice the Enterprise never had a problem that required a part to be shipped from Vulcan during that planet's High Holy Week. They never had to remove the defective part, send it across the neutral zone to be overhauled and then wait for it to be shipped back. That's the beauty of replicators.

Or maybe when Captain Kirk is yelling over the intercom, Scotty is mentally asking himself ...

What is the reality of the problem? (e.g., Can I safely complete the job in the time allotted?
- What is the worst thing that could happen to me?
- Am I overreacting to the situation?
- Can I change the situation so that something positive can come out of it?
- If I can't, what is the best way to deal with the problem?

Has this happened to me before?
- If so, what did I do? What can I do better?
- If not, then what is a rational plan to solve it?

The warp core goes critical and/or we are tortured by Klingons is usually the worst thing on the Enterprise, but sometimes I think it may be destruction of the universe and another parallel one. Or maybe it's missing a birthday party.

Nancy was pleased that she would have the help of two experienced AMTs for the detailed inspection. This will let her finish the job on time so that she can be at her son's birthday party. She had to work through the last two parties. Nancy's supervisor walked over and said, "Sorry but Jason had to go to Tuktoyaktuk to work on an engine failure and Melissa has to solve a pressurization problem on the plane that just came in. You're going to be on your own for this one. This is a good opportunity for you to prove yourself and keep your job".

Should Nancy prove herself or disappoint her son again?

I'm not even sure what that's supposed to be about. I don't get to go to birthday parties. I think it might be written in my job description, "does not attend birthday parties." Being required to work unscheduled overtime seems to be a sucky thing about working in maintenance, because you could just put down your tools and go home. The pilot doesn't really have that option, so I don't have a broad basis for sympathy. Aviation in general is not compatible with being there for other people's life events. I kind of suspect that Nancy's kid will have a better year in general if she keeps her job than if she loses it over a birthday party. I suppose we're supposed to counsel Nancy to have a hissy fit, excuse me to be assertive and demand additional resources for the inspection, but that's not going to make them appear. The program tells me to Click on "Continue" to see a suggestion.

According to the module, Nancy should "Stop", "Look", "Think", and "Act". The action would be to talk to her boss about how her overtime work affects her family life and how this stress is affecting her job performance. Okay, so she's had a nice talk with her supervisor. Now does she perform the inspection or go home and blow up balloons? The lack of resources advice in the training module consistently fails to address issues that arise when there just aren't resources. There isn't a hangar available. It's going down to -30 tonight and it will be -32 tomorrow night, and soon there won't be day at all until spring. There's no good strategy. So don't pretend like there is.

Oh, now I totally want to see a human factors training course where all the examples are drawn from Star Trek.


LocalFlightEast said...

Ok well I guess this answers my question as to why no one takes Human Factors seriously!

Real life doesn't tend to fit into one of four convenient multiple choice answers. This isn't limited to aviation either, many times where work sucks and you just have to get on with it. Throwing a hissy fit or talking about your feelings doesn't change the fact that someone else screwed up and you have to fix the problem before you go home, other commitments or not.

Oh and we should definitely use scenarios from Battlestar Galactica instead. Need some help, just rezz another Cylon!

Grant said...

During one such course for pilots, we had to break out into groups and within xx minutes report back with our solutions. All the groups came back with some sort of an answer even though the time limit was inadequate.

The instructor pointed out that when this same course is given to office employees, they come back saying they'll need more time before reaching a conclusion.

This highlights for me, the uniqueness of a pilot's job. There is only SO MUCH fuel/time. Beyond slowing down/holding to "buy" a few minutes, there is no way to just demand more time to solve a problem.

majroj said...

Anything Star Trek will attract students.

Let's try another tack on their course. AND I QUOTE:

"BOB was pleased that HE would have the help of two experienced AMTs for the detailed inspection. This will let HIM finish the job on time so that HE can be at HIS son's birthday party. HE had to work through the last two parties.

BOB'S supervisor walked over and said, 'Sorry but Jason had to go to Tuktoyaktuk to work on an engine failure and Melissa has to solve a pressurization problem on the plane that just came in. You're going to be on your own for this one. This is a good opportunity for you to prove yourself and keep your job'.

Should BOB prove HIMSELF or disappoint HIS son again?"

You need a better course. But you can squeeze enough juice from this one with our collective expertise. (hahaha) ;P

Aviatrix said...

majroj, I don't get it. Does it change the situation for you somehow if the AMT is a man instead of a woman? How is that another tack?

Aviatrix said...

Grant, that's fascinating. Like the time I attended a teaching skills upgrade course with instructors who had not taught pilots before. They were amazed each morning when everyone was in their seats ready to start at the scheduled start time, and so unprepared when we completed each exercise in exactly the allocated time that they ran out of material and had to send us home early. Minutes matter.

A Squared said...

"This is a good opportunity for you to prove yourself and keep your job" .

Apparently at Nancy's workplace, a conversation about having to unexpectedly work overtime *begins* with her supervisor issuing a poorly disguised threat to fire her. I think that the value of such a job might figure into the decision as to which is expendable.

majroj said...

Oddly with males it is always (usually) expected without question that they'll thoughtlessly (or selflessly) blow off family functions. The question sounds a little odd to us (or the test's authors) when the gender is male.

When it is female, it is a launchboard for discussing assertiveness versus self-preservation.

Ought to be equal each way.

Aviatrix said...

Hmm, in my experience it's females who are less likely to say, "nope, I'm out of here, I have a thing." Maybe it's just because there are more males in my industry so when I'm left in the lurch by someone it's more likely to be a male.

Bob said...

"Should Nancy prove herself or disappoint her son again?

Isn't this a false choice anyway? If Nancy decides to 'prove herself' (at least in the way her supervisor suggested) she WILL disappoint her son (assuming her son is expecting her at his party).

Perhaps, logical consistency is too high a bar for such a course.

majroj said...

By "expected" I meant the stereotype is that men just blow family events off so they can work. In real life (and I worked in a predominantly female profession for over 20 years)many ladies worked rather than risk losing their jobs.

Men did too except where they had a strong union and some seniority.

Michael5000 said...

I hate to say it... Nah, obviously I don't hate to say it, or I wouldn't. I'll start again.

I fear becoming unpopular for saying it, but you are clearly doing being provoked to do a hell of a lot of thinking about Human Factors, which suggests that the class, even if despite itself, is having the intended effect.