This past year has been a constant cascade of stories about the resurgence of American retail, the record-setting, white hot job market, and the changing dynamics of how we continue to do work in many verticals that represent hourly workers, from distribution to manufacturing.
While major players like Amazon and the large American retailers dominated the news cycles of 2018, the stories of the employees on the frontlines of the hourly workforce are often lost in the headlines, except for a few that have gone viral or been highlighted by smaller outlets or digital programs like Mike Rowe's Facebook show "Returning the Favor."
This past year, there’s been an exceptional array of positive, heartwarming, and encouraging stories not just about the world of hourly work, but the employees who are the faces of the many companies who serve consumers from fast food to retail.
We poured through hundreds of news publications and online resources -- from viral sensations to local news stories of hourly workers doing good, and the people who champion the industries that educate and employ them.
Here’s a collection of our favorite stories we’ve read this past year:
🚑 Three Home Depot Employees Save A Woman’s Life
In the event of a heart attack, a person typically has a very small window of time -- five to 10 minutes -- before the onset of major brain damage or death. At a local Home Depot, when one shopper experienced a heart attack, three employees were able to jump into action within three minutes. Their heroic actions saved a life of a passing motorist and his passenger who stopped into the store for help.
💡 A Spotlight Shines On Hourly Jobs From High Profile People
Regardless of what our professions are today, if we look back to our first few jobs, there's bound to be an hourly job in the mix. There's something pretty cool about seeing well-known personalities and business figures talk about what their first jobs were.
Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian's first two jobs were working at retailer CompUSA and then at a fast food restaurant.
"I worked as a cook and dishwasher at Pizza Hut. Then I worked my way up to a waiter, where I learned basically everything I’ve ever needed to know about customer service," Ohanian told New York Times writer, David Gelles.
Another solid example of the importance of that first, hourly job is Katrina Lake, founder & CEO of Stitch Fix. The New York Times business reporter David Gelles interviewed her for an installment of 'The Corner Office' where she dished that her first job was very helpful in teaching her and preparing for the future.
"It was either Banana Republic or a smoothie shop. Or it would have been lifeguarding. I don’t know, actually. At Banana Republic, I learned that so much of your work experience is enjoying the people you work with. Optimizing for who you're around is important," she said.
🔧 The Importance of Vocational Education
Vocational education, apprenticeships, and trade schools don't get nearly the attention they deserve. And, they probaly should.
In today's uber-competitive job landscape, there's legions of openings in industries where there are not enough candidates, and the trades represent a large number of these roles.
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled some high schoolers who are skipping college in favor of tech colleges and trades.
🍟 Happiness Beneath the Golden Arches
There's a lot we can learn about the work ethic of 90-year-old Alice Pirnie, a long-time employee at the McDonald's in Broken Bow, Nebraska.
She strives to bring each customer joy, no matter what. She arrived at the Broken Bow location 26 years ago when the location first opened, and only took extended time off when a grease fire closed the inside of the restaurant.
In addition to her deep dedication to customer service, Pirnie also served as the store's unofficial historian, recording and tracking articles and news about the store and the locations where people visited from. To date, she has welcome people from every single state but one, and dozens of countries around the globe.
So, how does she do that?
“By smiling lots. I smile at them until they finally smile back at me. I like to see happy people. Life is better if you can be friendly. To have friends you must be friendly. I just love seeing people.”
💪🏽Helping A Community Where Work is Hard to Come By
In rural West Virginia, it's still pretty tough to find a job. What was once a prosperous town, Welch, West Virginia has fallen on hard times and watched a large swath of downtown stores shutter as residents struggle to adjust to a life where coal isn't as big as it used to be.
Mike Rowe took his camera crew and a team of roofers to surprise local resident Linda McKinney, who's job is operating Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank, which feeds and supports thousands of Welch residents.
This episode, which you can watch on Facebook, is a great introduction to the wonderful acts of kindness that Rowe bestows on unsuspecting "do-gooders" all across the country.
🍔 California In-N-Out Beefs Up Employees Hourly Pay
In-N-Out, the venerable burger spot in the Western United States already was known for paying their employees above the state minimum hourly wage.
One Sacramento location upped the hourly wages for some of their employees to $17 an hour, well above the national average of $10.39 for fast food cooks.
🛍 Job Shaming Turns Into Positive For Actor
When a customer captured a photograph of The Cosby Show star Geoffrey Owens working at a Trader Joe's the snap went viral for all the wrong reaasons. What began as a sort of job-shaming then turned into a positive.
Many other actors and personalities came to Owens' defense and stood by him with support. Owens was using the Trader Joe's job much like the 78 million other Americans who work hourly roles -- to support himself and bridge the time between acting gigs and bigger opportunities. And the initial act of a supposedly unsuspecting photo ended up opening up a national conversation that put a spotlight on the formerly hidden role of service and hourly occupations that are vital components to the entertainment industry.
After the story got out, he actually got more acting gigs and recurring role in a 10-episode series next year.
What was most refreshing was his forthcoming and honest response directly after the photo was published in a conversation with Good Morning America:
“I hope what doesn’t pass is...this rethinking about what it means to work, the honor of the working person, and the dignity of work,” Owens said.
I hope this period that we’re in now where we have this heightened sensitivity about that and a revaluation of what it means to work and a reevaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others — because that’s actually not true. ...
Every job is worthwhile and valuable. If we have a rethinking about that because of what’s happened to me, that would be great. But no one should be sorry for me. I’ve had a great life. ... I’m doing fine.
🚗 New Meaning to 'Going the Extra Mile'
And finally, we found one of our favorite, most positively uplifing, heartwarming stories that involved an employee going the extra mile. Far, far beyond the extra mile.
In Alabama, Walter was set to begin his first day as a mover at Bellhops, but a broken-down car prevented him from making the trek to work. So, he started on the more than 20 mile journey at midnight until a police officer came across him early in the morning. What happened next was a special interaction and a sign of the dedication and tenacity that many hourly workers deal with, but often go unreported.
What happened next took the story viral. Bellhops Moving CEO took notice of this young man, working and preparing for a career in the military -- he gave Walter his very own car.