From Peoria, IL — 12/12/2007
Caterpillar has the right idea in a lot of areas. However, they do two things terribly wrong: 1) They treat different levels of workers WAY too differently and 2) They do not respect anyone who does not have a 4 year degree, no matter how well you do your job.
I've been working at Cat for 10 years as an administrative assistant. I get rave reviews from people all the time saying how well I do this and that. My boss admits there are aspects of his job that would not get done if I didn't do them. Why, then, can I not get a promotion? I have a 2 year degree, and would be more than happy to go back to school if I could get a smallish promotion and make enough money to pay for it. I've been applying for jobs for a year and have not even gotten an interview. I believe that my lack of a four year degree puts too many people ahead of me in line. I also believe that people who have told me in the past that they'd give me rave reviews if I ever needed one (including one VP) tend to back off a little when it actually comes down to backing a mere secretary. I need a champion and don't have one. I fear I will linger in a support role until I leave Cat, whether by retirement or just moving to another company.
Cat actually has pretty good benefits. The people who have worked at Cat from straight out of high school or college gripe about the benefits, because they don't know how it is in the real world. At my previous job, I paid 2.5 times as much for health insurance and it didn't cover near what I get at Cat. I kind of understand these people's pain, since they used to pay ZERO and EVERYTHING was covered. But they should have known they were getting a deal. They spend so much time being resentful over what is taken away from them, that they never bother to compare it to other companies to realize they are still getting a great deal.
Co-worker competence. That is interesting. Coming from an engineering organization as a non-engineer, I can tell you that engineers and other highly specialized, degreed personnnel wish that they could lock themselves away in a closet and perform ONLY those tasks which relate directly to their degree. As anyone who hasn't been locked away in a closet knows, this is not possible anywhere today. Multi-tasking is expected of everyone. Being in a support role, I constantly have to defend myself from predatory types who would dump all of their extra work off on me. Accounting, engineering, and other specialized degree programs at any college should always include courses on how to adapt to changing workplace environs, and possibly how to support yourself, lacking any support in place. I have 22 year old college grads show up, fresh off the campus, and expect me to set up their meetings! Please, people.
Cat is the big man on campus in Central Illinois. There is simply no place else to work to make the kind of money we do. I will admit that I make pretty good money for an admin. I will also freely admit that I make less than a lot of other admins who have been with the company for less time. Cat definitely does not give "cost of living" adjustments to it's old timers. And if you're not willing to fight tooth and nail to stay on top of that, you won't. But I'm not like that. I expect that my boss will see how well I'm doing and reward me appropriately. In fact, good review marks are saved for engineers (or accountants, or attorneys in other Business Units) and people in support roles are left to fend for themselves with average reviews. They aren't supposed to "grade on a curve" but they are supposed to grade with the intention of having review marks fall into a "natural" equitable distribution. In other words, if a manager turns in too many great reviews, his boss will veto those and make him redistribute. Not a great way to pay back employees, especially if you have a good group who are all busting tail.
Work environment: Besides working with a lot of arrogant engineers (I cannot emphasize how much these people think of themselves. I once heard an engineer compare his profession to that of an emergency room doctor. I fail to see the similarity.) and a lot of dissatisfied factory employees (both groups still make way more than I do, and want to staunchly defend their jobs from new and encroaching safety and government regulations, meaning more work for me and other support staff) the work environment is good. The offices are refurbished nicely, they take care to give employees recognition for things like service anniversaries, etc., and I have to say, they are very flexible with work schedules. If you need time off, you take it. Doctors appts, sick days, etc. are unlimited. Most people have the capability to work from home and this is allowed whenever needed. Sometimes I see them spending money on things that make no sense. We work at a huge facility on a campus like setting. Everytime I see them watering the vast quad, it makes me ill. Hello, quit wasting a precious natural resource, and, oh, give your employees a raise with the money you'd save. Duh.
Last, I'll touch on job security. It's good. A little too good. I've seen people who cannot master the basic tenets of their jobs hang on for 45 years then retire. I've seen people who have the respect of no one in management and supervisory positions. I've seen people who cannot even turn on a computer sitting at their desks asleep half the day. Especially if you're a minority worker, you can pretty much do anything except steal, be physically violent, or make really bad mistakes that cost the company money and keep your job for as long as you want it. Keep your head down, and you'll skate through.
Overall, Cat is a good place to work. Glass ceilings still exist, though, and rampant incompetance can frustrate or hamper people with true vision. Oh, and get your four year degree, or be prepared to sit at the same desk for 40 years. For some folks, that's just fine.