Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Two Days I Can't Get Back

THE WORD WENT FORTH at my place of work: All must learn Word. Yes, somehow some of us had escaped using the dominant word processing software of the last 10 years and needed to be schooled. We were all scheduled to take a 2-day Word tutorial at a Midtown computer-learning center. I was told a couple of weeks ago that this Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be my turn.

I initially offered a protest — or at least the verbal equivalent of a raised eyebrow — because I have used Word for years, as a copyeditor and on both sides of the manuscript-to-typesetter publishing process. My father had a good point, though, about how one should never refuse when one's company offers the opportunity to train on some new software or system. Besides, I was led to believe that these Word classes would teach the editors (and at least acquaint the managers and designers) how to style text for the new XML method of crafting newsletters. So I relented.

One of the editors with whom I work took the classes before I did. She reported, unfortunately, that the course material had nothing to do with the new production process. In fact, the most sophisticated new technique she learned was . . . mail merging. Among other topics covered were applying paragraph styles to text — something the editors already do hundreds of times every day. My hopes for learning a new skill with the jaunty stiff upper lip my father had advised were dwindling.

Tuesday rolled around, and I headed back to Midtown, coincidentally one year to the day after the company threw open the doors of its new office to the troops. I realized that no matter how the classes actually went, I would still have the chance to see Manhattan's tourist district in full Christmas splendor. Huge wreaths and tree ornaments adorned corporate lobbies. Santas and Salvation Army volunteers chimed bells and played Christmas carols on radios placed discreetly next to their change cauldrons. Toys R Us bags from the giant outlet on the edge of Times Square were in abundance, clasped in heavily gloved hands due to the subzero cold. I also got to see the tree in Rockefeller Center. Although its true beauty is only truly realized at night, I still marveled at the size of this massive conifer. Between the tree and the folks ice-skating on the rink in its shadow, I felt much in the holiday mood.

That was the high point of my daylight hours for the past two days. I have no problem with the school, the helpful and poised instructor who tutored us in various features of Word deemed important by our bosses, or the course materials. What did frustrate me was the lack of direct, personal concern in my career development that the entire undertaking represented. My boss flat out signed the four designers up for this class. I found out that everyone else in my particular class had been tested to gauge their proficiency at Word. Were there some folks who had placed out of the requirement to go to these classes, as I did decades ago with Spanish via an AP exam score that mollified the Boston College registrar? I could easily have joined them.

What's more, the version of Word used in the class is not the one I and my fellow Mac-head designers employ. Word for the Mac has not progressed since 2001, whereas Word for Windows — or at least the version now being placed on the PCs in the office — is up to 2003. This rendered much of what the teacher demonstrated useless to us except if we sit down at a PC for some reason (gun barrel to temple, perhaps). Sure, it's good to know this stuff, and we were given course books and online support we can call upon should we want to practice, but we were expecting something that would apply to us, specifically for the crafting and tagging of XML files. Although Word 2003 does support XML, it remained unaddressed in the course.

Now, there are a couple of software packages that I would like to learn. I know almost nothing about Excel. My bosses use this all the time. Not knowing it leaves me ignorant and less qualified to ascend to a management position. Also, for a graphic designer, I am seriously undereducated in the practical use of Adobe Photoshop. I took a course devoted to Illustrator and Photoshop in the fall of 2001 at the School of Visual Arts, which is in fact fairly close by my current workplace. At the time, though, all I knew is I was spending each Monday night way too close to Ground Zero than I would have preferred, and coming home at 11:00 after a 3-hour class in the city and a 90-minute bus ride that stopped approximately 284 times between the Port Authority and my destination. I skipped out on the last two classes, never telling my boss that I had missed part of the Photoshop half of the course.

Now, these are two topics on which I would love some formal education. But I was not consulted on what I might want to learn. I understand that the company wants us all on the same skill level. But most of the people in the class these past two days needed no introduction to the Word skills our intrepid instructor demonstrated for us. I actually began to feel like someone else should have been given the opportunity to call upon her assistance, someone for whom this information would have opened a door to a first, or better, job . . . not to a crowd that was finishing the exercises in half the allotted time, if that, and splitting the remaining time between answering work email and computer solitaire.

I flat out said in my post-class evaluation questionnaire that I wanted to be given more of a voice in determining the training that would best benefit me and the company. I don't know who will read this. If it goes to the instructor's bosses, they will at least also read that I thought she did a fine job and that the course materials and examples were very helpful. But not to me. And that sure wasn't her fault.

Hopefully, somewhere out there is a midlevel publishing executive who just spent two very confusing days learning the basics of Photoshop. I need to bump into that person on the train and exchange notes.

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