Be careful making assumptions about people

Lessons learned can stay with us for our entire lives. Some years ago, I was with my youngest son, Gregory, who was picking out a tux for his senior prom. (Gregory now has two of his four children in college) A young man came running over to me saying, “Mr. Kozera, Mr. Kozera…” I had no idea who he was. At that time, I was a Junior Achievement High School volunteer. I spent an hour a week in the classroom for 10 weeks teaching the students life skills like effective communication, teamwork and leadership.

The students were fun to work with. We did a lot of small group and hands on activities. There was one student who had his head down on his desk the first day. When I asked the teacher about him she said, “Oh, that’s Johnny (not his real name). The teacher said, “Don’t worry about him. He has issues. His parents are divorced. He was living with his grandparents and now he is living with an aunt.” For the next 10 weeks all I ever saw was the top of Johnny’s head. The next thing the young man in the tux store said was, “Mr. Kozera, I want you to meet my aunt.” It was Johnny! He led me over to the aunt who was with her son picking out a tux. Johnny introduced me, “Mr. Kozera is our Junior Achievement instructor.” He went on to tell the aunt everything we did in Junior achievement for the entire 10 weeks. He not only heard everything I taught, he remembered what we did, understood and learned the skills. I had no idea. His teacher had written him off. Unknowingly, I made a difference. This taught me the valuable lesson to never write someone off and to be careful when making assumptions about people.

All things are possible. I have been blessed to see what some call “the impossible”, especially with young people. Years ago, one of my high school seniors had a dream to play for the state soccer championship. He convinced me and the rest of the team against all the odds, it was possible. We played for that 1999 state championship. Everyone now knew it was possible. Our team’s 17 regional and 6 state championships all started with a high school senior who had a dream. He didn’t assume it was impossible. He refused to give up on people.

Over the years my players taught me how to dream again. In 2019 after my soccer injury, the ability to dream and a lot of support convinced me I could run half marathons again. In December of 2020, I ran my first of four half marathons since my injury. Last Saturday I ran a competitive 10K (6.2 miles) at the Greenbrier. I sprinted the last half mile to finish second in my age group. The first time that ever happened. This isn’t about me, it is about those who helped me to dream again as an adult and people like my wife and our daughter Dannielle (also my running coach) who encouraged me.

Many companies today are looking for people. When we at Shale Crescent USA talk to companies who want to expand or locate to the region, we learn their biggest challenge is workforce not sites. Work force participation in West Virginia, we were told, is the lowest in the country. I wonder how Johnny is doing. I never saw him again after the tux shop. Are there people we think can’t or won’t do the job who really want to be working? Maybe they have given up because no one believed in or encouraged them. When it comes to our workforce all things are possible.

Companies might want to consider the young who may need trained or just a chance to show what they can do. We are beginning to see workforce training starting in high school. My brother had auto body training in high school. He worked part time while in school and had a full-time job when he graduated. Many jobs today are more technical. Today’s young people are used to technology.

Some companies have programs to give people with drug problems and convicts a second chance. We shouldn’t assume older (60+) adults and people with disabilities can’t or won’t work. In many companies older experienced workers were the first to be let go in restructuring. Maybe it was because they had higher salaries or maybe because companies didn’t fully understand the value of their experience.

We have a friend in her 80s who is still working part time by her choice as a Registered Nurse. Her mind is still sharp. She has decades of practical experience and continues her education to keep her RN license current. Companies shouldn’t make assumptions about workers in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Many older workers are as fit and healthy as younger workers. They may not want to work a full work week or only part of the year. If they have Medicare, health insurance isn’t a cost for the company. Most people of this generation are dependable.

Spending two months in a wheelchair after my injury gave me a better appreciation of what people with disabilities have to deal with. My mother-law lived with us after she had a stroke. Her right side was paralyzed. She could dress herself. Lynnda and I both worked and the kids were in afterschool care. When we got home around 6 p.m. my mother-in-law had dinner prepared using her only working arm. She never considered herself handicapped. I believe many “disabled” people feel the same way. Many can work with a little adaptation to the work place. The pandemic showed companies remote work is possible Workers with disabilities can be viable options for some companies. Keeping an open mind and not making assumptions about people can help companies find workers they desperately need.


Greg Kozera, gkozera@shalecrescentusa.com is the Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert, high school soccer coach, professional speaker, author of four books and numerous published articles.


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