Reporter's Notebook

What's the Most Annoying Misconception About Your Career Field?
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Readers from a variety of vocations address the question. If you’d like to sound off yourself, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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‘The Strongest Guys Are Often the Worst Construction Workers’

Another reader joins the series:

As a construction laborer, I find that one of the funniest misconceptions about my job is that Hollywood and pretty much all TV show producers seem to think that all construction workers have Brooklyn or Bronx accents from the 1950s. Even when they show construction workers in LA or Dallas, the workers all seem to have Brooklyn accents.

But more seriously, I’ve had people literally tell me that I do “unskilled” or “brainless” work because I’m in construction. Yes, the construction industry is one of the least credentialed industries; you literally do not need a high school diploma. But once you enter the industry, you are expected to learn on the job—and quickly.

This week, I’m putting in a concrete footer/foundation underneath a
120-year-old brick house. That doesn’t require academic credentials, but it does require skill. Guys in my neighborhood have been killed because they did the process wrong.

Many people seem to think that strength is the best quality for a construction worker to have. Actually, even when it comes to the hard laboring jobs, the biggest and strongest guys are often the worst workers. They often get outworked by older, smaller, and/or skinnier or fatter guys. A man who likes to work or has a good attitude towards work can easily outwork a lazy muscular guy.

I had a relative by marriage who ended up disabled after a number of years in construction after episodes of showing off how much he could lift. He’d show up all the other guys on the job site by carrying two of whatever everybody else carried one of, after bragging he could out-lift everyone on site. All this resulted in delays in work followed by multiple back surgeries. I’d bet that some of the men who refused to engage in his petty contests kept their jobs a lot longer than he did.

A reader has some advice if you ever find yourself accidentally and unknowingly dialing the emergency hotline:

I have worked as a law enforcement dispatcher for 14 years, the last two as part of a 911 center. I must first say that most reactions from people are positive, usually along the lines of “I could never do that!”—even (especially) from officers. I have come across a couple of incorrect assumptions, though. The one I have dealt with personally is that because I work with law enforcement, I’m a hardcore law-and-order type. While this misconception may keep me off juries, in fact I—like most others in the profession with whom I am acquainted—probably have a  more balanced opinion of law enforcement than many people.

Another assumption my supervisor hears  is “Oh, so you answer phones”—in a tone that suggests that people call 911 to chat. Yes, we answer phone calls—from people who are frequently angry, upset, or in great distress to the point of incoherence. It is up to us to turn that call into useful information to be used by the appropriate responders.  

Actually, the type of call I would most like to mention is the accidental 911 call. These have become increasingly common with cellphones with single-button 911 activation. Many people don’t know that they did it (the “butt” or “pocket” dial). This is a large enough problem at some centers that software exists to help handle it.

It’s policy at our center to check out all 911 calls with at least a call-back and in most cases send an officer. If you do accidentally dial 911 and you realize it, please stay on the line and let the call-taker know what happened and where you are (or follow the procedure for the center you contact). If you get a call from us because of an accidental dial, please bear in mind that we have to check out all 911 calls and be patient and cooperative.