Last month, I accepted a job working as “Orientation Trainer” at one of the country’s largest poultry processing companies. I had been considering a career move to a Human Resources position and thought that this might be a good career move for me. In my previous job, which was downsized after five years, I had the responsibility of interviewing contractors, submitting paperwork and onboarding them. As Office Manager in a small office, I was in touch with them at all hours and helped them gain an understanding of their job.
So, what is an Orientation Trainer, you ask? First, some background. Poultry processing (a nice euphemism for chicken slaughter and cutting) is not pleasant work. The plant literally stinks. I actually thought I was going to toss my cookies due to the smell. It never did happen because I learned how to breathe through my mouth when walking in certain areas of the plant. The plant is very cold and the employees who work on the production floor perform their tasks repetitively for long hours and are subject to meeting very high metrics. Then there are the employees who work at the “kill plant.” They’re the lucky ones who work mostly third shift stunning and slaughtering the birds.
Poultry processing plants rely on workers who have nothing to lose. Many of the employees I encountered were ex-cons, most have less than a high school education and some are immigrants and addicts in recovery. For the record, I believe that these populations deserve a second chance; however, these companies know that they need a job and exploit them. I also want to state that I believe in a living wage. If you have a family to support, you should be making at least $15.00 hour for a 40-hour workweek, especially in the harshest conditions, such as poultry processing.
The poultry processing plant where I worked will hire you as long as you pass a drug test. You go for a short interview, tour the plant and then discuss jobs available and you must sign an agreement that you have accepted a certain position and this cannot be altered during your probationary period. Orientations begin every Monday and last five days. If you come on a Friday for an interview, you are scheduled for an in-house drug test as soon as possible. If you’re cleared, you begin the following Monday for orientation.
On the first day of orientation, you are asked to read the code of conduct, the employee manual and submit your I-9 documentation. I saw quite a few employees who could not read or write or who could not provide proper documentation. Those who couldn’t produce documentation were cut from orientation. A class of 20 usually dwindled to 15 after the first few days. At orientation, the employees learned that they will be treated like children. They were required to put their phones in a locked box during class. They were also required to answer questions based on the many Powerpoint presentations and videos they watched. Some of these employees were not able to comprehend and missed questions. If you missed the questions, you were reprimanded and asked if you really wanted this job.
Tuesdays through Friday afternoons the class was sent out to the production floor. Water was not provided because the only manager who had authority to purchase it was on vacation. I actually bought drinks for the class on more than one occasion.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about these kinds of jobs. I had known people who started out working these kinds of jobs when that was all that was available. Some of the people working in jobs like these are older people, people with disabilities and those who have no other choices in life. Those people should not be treated with the kind of disrespect I witnessed. They should be paid better and they should be treated like people with dignity.
So, what does an Orientation Trainer do? My job was to read Powerpoint presentations to the class and show slides while assembling paperwork. I was hired with no experience in the poultry processing industry. I hadn’t even gone on a tour of the plant before I was hired or anytime during my employment. I was the one who was expected to orient the class to the company, yet I had no real-life experience or training to do so. I felt like an outsider, someone who was hired to babysit the class. Many days I was left on my own with a class that had legitimate questions that I was not able to answer. Why wasn’t the job of Orientation Trainer filled from within the company? I’m quite sure there are intelligent, competent adults working in production who would have loved that job and would have done it so much better, as they would have been able to relate their real-life experiences to the class.
I felt bad for my classes. I knew they were being shortchanged by having a trainer who was not trained. I wanted to be able to help them, but in the end, all I could do was help the ones who didn’t read and buy them water when they were thirsty. I hope that they find a job in which they are treated with respect.