CCA Bootcamp - What to Expect During your Brief but Brutal Letter Carrier Initiation
Before You Sell your Soul to the Postal Devil, Read this!
In long ago days of yore, accepting a postal position was a slam-bang decision. The letter carrier job was coveted because it paid a living wage and was perceived to be simple, stress-free work. Your local mailman was a cool cat who let his hair down, let his satchel swing freely, and grooved down the street in an un-rushed, carefree fashion that had easy money written all over it.
Those times have changed. Now if you manage to catch a glimpse of the endangered letter carrier at all it is usually in a sweaty blur as he or she whizzes by at a frantic pace, fueled by the frenzied rush to meet impossible productivity expectations. Furthermore, even as the cost of living skyrockets, letter carrier wages have remained stagnant for several years now as the Postal Service struggles to get out from beneath a financial burden unfairly imposed upon it by Congress. In other words, the job is not so easy and the wages no longer go as far as they used to.
To further augment this list of the unattractive aspects of being a Mailman, now all incoming letter carriers must pass through the rigorous process of being a CCA (City Carrier Assistant) first. The CCA is basically a second tier letter carrier that receives a significantly lower wage than a regular letter carrier and must endure other hardships that are absolutely unthinkable blasphemy to regulars, such as no vacation, no sick leave, and often being forced to work Monday through Sunday with sometimes no day off for several weeks. It is true that many CCAs have been converted to regular carrier now, but in most cases these promoted employees served in the now eliminated THE position for many years first. In other words, the road to regular is illuminated with only a very dim light at the end of the tunnel and it could take several painful, grueling years to get there. No wonder then that the CCAs are dropping like flies and the entrance to CCA Bootcamp is a revolving door.
I have written a few articles on the subject of postal CCAs in the past that have received quite a few responses. Many of these comments are from people who contemplate accepting the CCA job but want to want more about it before they leave their current employment and dive headfirst into postal hell. I don't sugar-coat anything when I reply to each and every one of these messages; instead I point out the good along with the bad and leave the potential CCAs to weigh the decision for themselves.
My previous CCA related articles have centered around the rigors of the letter carrier job, but many of the querying CCAs are also worried about what to expect during their orientation and training period. Therefore, I have entitled this post "CCA Bootcamp," because what the neophyte letter carrier is exposed to is often as intimidating as a Drill Sergeant screaming out insults to a green military recruit. Okay, I admit this is pure exaggeration and hyperbole, but nonetheless the CCA should be psychologically prepared for what he or she will endure during this intense postal preparatory period.
Orientation - Sworn in or Sworn at?
Orientation will be the first step along in your postal journey and by far the most pleasant. At this point you will be buzzing with satisfaction and pride that you were picked for the job from among hundreds of candidates. As you walk through the orientation doors you will be sure you did the right thing because the classroom will be clean, sterile, and non threatening, and the people herding the newbies around will all be so friendly, patient, and helpful.
The reason the orientation directors are no nice is because there is a tremendous chasm that exists between life in an isolated ivory tower office cubicle and life out in the trenches where the real postal battles are fought, which is where you will be going shortly. These folks are friendly because they go home early on Fridays, have weekends off, and do not have to work unpaid overtime. You will soon notice a marked contrast between their perky, alert attitudes and the distant, stunned, shell-shocked expressions you will get from your supervisors in the delivery unit, which is the equivalent of the Postal Russian front.
The most notable event that will occur during your orientation is that you will be sworn in to your postal duties. Being sworn in is a lot better than being sworn at, which is very likely what is going to be done to you many times by annoyed postal customers and perhaps even your supervisors during the grueling time ahead.
Training Days - Or: Interminable Power Points from Hell
From orientation the next phase of CCA bootcamp, actually referred to in rather grandiose style as "CCA Academy," consists of a three day training session. Hopefully, as you take that tentative first step onto the surface of Planet Postal, the screening process will have eliminated you as a possible sufferer of Attention Deficit Disorder. Otherwise your three day classroom experience is going to be one heck of a dull ride. There is not enough caffeine in South America that could have kept me awake through this tedious three day process of watching one mind-numbing computerized power point slide after another, all of which seem to be written in some strange, completely incomprehensible language. So I suppose it was a good thing that when I came in there were human trainers who would throw heavy and sharp objects at us in the afternoon to keep us alert.
As an On the Job Instructor who has trained approximately 20 CCAs over the last year and a half, I have found two CCAs who remembered something from the Power Point training session. Interestingly enough, both of these were females who actually took notes. As Ron and Harry found out at Hogwarts, historically it has always paid off for us guys to sit behind some nerdy Hermione Granger girl in class and copy off her paper. But this time around dudes there won't be anybody to copy off of when you are out on the street humping it on your own, so try to stay awake and absorb some of it.
All jokes about Wizard school aside, there is absolutely nothing in your pre-postal life that you will be able to relate the Power Point concepts to. None of it will make sense until you get out there and start doing the job on your own. When they get to the slide teaching you the difference between priority, first class and parcel post mail you will be reaching for that Red Bull under your seat and hoping you can sprout wings to fly away from all of this drudgery without anybody noticing your absence.
To prepare you for your upcoming driver's training, you will also be shown a goofy movie called DDC (Defensive Driving Course). This film makes many silly references to popular space movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, as if you will be maneuvering through asteroid fields instead of around lawn ornaments and school children during the course of your daily deliveries. Apparently this video is so nauseatingly embarrassing that your training director completely vanishes until it is over, apparently to avoid the shame of guilt by association.
Driving Instruction - Or: How to Drive on the Wrong Side of a Moving Vehicle
Ever been down under? While in the Navy many years ago I spent a couple weeks in Australia, and was exposed to the sheer horror of not only driving on the wrong side, which is what we Yanks call the right side of the vehicle, but also driving on the wrong, or what we up here call the left side of the road. To compound the confusion my sadistic, apparently fearless Navy shipmates rented a manual transmission, so that the stick shift had to be worked with the wrong hand as well. I suppose they did this so that we could all get a few more LOLs while rolling under the influence of the local Emu lager.
The Post Office does not want you to drive on the wrong side of the road or drink Emu lager on the clock, thank goodness for everybody, but they do expect you to operate a right hand drive vehicle. Therefore, before you check in to your assigned postal facility you are going to have approximately 2-4 days of drivers training, where you will either drive the LLV (Long Life Vehicle), or the slightly larger FFV (Flex Fuel Vehicle), depending on what they operate at your assigned station.
Driver's training consists of driving around cones and through plastic PVC obstacles designed to gauge your ability to judge distance. Shortly before your supervisors will have you figuratively jumping through hoops, your driving instructors will literally have you driving through them.
On the Job Instruction - Or: Three Days with your slightly unsettled OJI
Anybody who willingly volunteers to train a CCA should automatically be held in deep suspicion. There is no practical reason why anybody should want to babysit an adult human for three days and afterward get very little credit for good CCAs while getting a pile of blame and dirty sideways looks for the bad ones. Truth is that during my run as an OJI babysitter I haven't had to change any diapers yet, which is not to say that it can't happen, but I almost had to scrape a CCA off the sidewalk because she failed to calculate what she was up against and did not hydrate properly.
Once you have cleared all the PVC hoops and orange cones at driver's training and your driving instructor is satisfied you will only run over tiny annoying yap dogs and no schoolchildren, your next step will be three days of instruction with an OJI at a real post office. You might have to wait a couple weeks for this. As I have said, OJIs are in short supply because there is no real reward or benefit for doing the job and there is a dearth of volunteers. Therefore, as desperate as you are to make some money you might have to get in line behind the other CCAs and wait for a trainer to free up.
Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that the station you train at might not be the station where you end up working. I will repeat once more that there is a shortage of letter carriers willing to train, so those of us who are masochistic enough to endure this thankless task generally instruct CCAs for several postal facilities. In other words, don't get too comfortable at your training station, because the scenery is likely to change very quickly.
The odds are that your trainer has taken the job because he or she is a conscientious person that wants the Postal Service to succeed by making sure its employees are schooled properly, but don't count on this. Although I would like to believe that most OJI's fit into this category, there are those trainers that have their own secret, insidious agendas, and you need to be aware of these types so that you can adjust your expectations accordingly. Here are two of the most common bad trainer types.
The Smooth Slacker
I once knew an OJI that took the job essentially to get out of work. His approach to training was of the "throw the baby into the deep end of the swimming pool" philosophy. In other words, this man would let the trainee do all of the work while he played around on his laptop in the back of the two-seater LLV while offering a minimal amount of instruction, and very grudgingly at that.
There are actually advantages for the CCA with this approach. For one thing, you the trainee are going to get used to the bare bones mechanics of mail delivery very quickly, because as you are sweating and straining under a loaded satchel your trainer Mr. Smooth Slacker is likely going to be playing Flappy Bird on his cell phone and looking the other way.
The drawback with Mr. Smooth Slacker is that despite all the delivery practice you are going to get, there are going to be important gaps in your mail delivery knowledge that he isn't going to pass along but are likely to get you into deep trouble later. For instance, as he browses through his Facebook notifications Smooth Slacker might forget to tell you that an Express Mail has to be delivered before noon. Later, when you are on your own, failure to comply with this little detail might be enough to get you fired. But don't try blaming Mr. Slacker, because remember his first name is Smooth. So of course he'll swear that he told you everything and of course management will believe him. This is another reason why you should pay attention to the Power Points, in case you get stuck with someone like the Slacker.
Mother Hen Micro-Manager
This trainer might actually be worse than Mr. Smooth Slacker, because whereas Senor Slacker wasn't telling you anything, Mother Hen is going to be bombarding you with useless facts that are just going to get scrambled in your head and forgotten in all of your muddled confusion.
Furthermore, Mother Hen probably isn't even going to let you touch the mail. She will be afraid you might get it dirty, and heaven forbid that her precious customers should receive a letter sullied by your sweaty paw prints! If she does finally concede that you should deliver a letter or two before being turned loose on your own, she is going to look over your shoulder for every piece of mail you throw into a box and chastise you because you're not putting it in there neatly enough. After three days with her you are certainly going to be able to fold the mail with neat military creases, but you are also going to be agonizingly slow, and good luck trying to convince your clock-obsessed boss that your slothfulness is compensated by your obsessive tidiness.
So Mother Hen is going to make sure that you can cross the I's and dot the t's on a Vehicle Repair tag and you will know where the AMS edit sheet you won't use for several years is located, but as a letter carrier you are going to be next to useless after three days under her wing.
Conclusion - OMG What Now?
Hopefully your own trainer will be a useful happy medium between Smooth Slacker and Mother Hen, because the high postal priesthood hath declared that after the third day you are now officially a letter carrier and are expected to perform accordingly, whether you feel ready or not.
So do what you have to do to survive. If your OJI isn't getting it done, don't be afraid to bombard your fellow CCAs and Regular Letter Carriers with questions. They have all stood in your trembling shoes at one time and most of them, outside of a few peculiar quirks and fetishes, are basically decent people who like to help.
The purpose of this article was mostly to get you psychologically prepared for what you have in store, not to teach you what to do when you are finally on your own. So although this doesn't do you a bit of good right now, a soon to be released article entitled CCA Tips and Tricks will hopefully help you survive the nightmare of your first day delivering alone and get you home in one piece.