I was having lunch the other day with a friend of mine who works in one of the large law firms in town when the topic of hiring new employees came up. Although the type of employee one hires for a law firm is quite different from the people I hire for our manufacturing plant, the similarities of our frustrations were incredible. Our biggest complaint was how difficult it is to find employees who have a passion for work. Given the fact that the unemployment rate in the United States is around 6.2%, one would think that there are a lot of people out there who are very hungry for employment. That has not been my experience. The biggest challenge my company faces right now is finding good employees. This made me wonder what’s going on in this country that is driving a general malaise in the workforce.
I tend to use a lot of sports analogies in running a business. One of my favorites is the example of how a successful company must attract the best people in the same way a championship team selects the best players. It is also critically important to have the right people in the right positions. You won’t make it very far in the NFL by having your wide receiver play on the offensive line. Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” emphasizes the importance of effective staff placement. Since the team is of critical importance, this applies more pressure to hiring the right people. The days of hiring based upon whether someone can fog a mirror are gone forever.
Last year, I attended a preservation conference where RudyChristian spoke on the serious decline of people trained in the traditional building trades. The general lack of interest from the youth of America in the trades has caused many schools to discontinue offering these degrees. We experienced this phenomena 15 years ago when it became increasingly difficult to find talented craftsmen. As a result, Re-View began to invest in automated equipment that enabled us to manufacture period work without relying on master carpenters for every process. These investments allowed the company to grow despite the dearth of experienced talent. Now we are having a major challenge just finding people who want to work in general, never mind finding someone with experience in their trade. If the people who are protesting raising the minimum wage to $15 applied the same amount of energy to showing up for work and applying themselves every day, I have a $15+ job available for them right now.
This made me wonder whether we are dealing with a generational trend. Is there something about the psyche of the Millennial generation that contributes to my challenges in finding people with a strong work ethic? Millennials are defined as people in the United States who are 18 to 35 years old. William Strauss and Neil Howewrote several books on the Millennials and generational theory, and they state we are in a period of generational crisis where the current generation is demanding change. This crisis is largely a result of 9-11, the economic downturn, and the stagnation in government. Some of the prominent traits of this generation are a sense of entitlement and a narcissistic demeanor. Jean Twenge wrote a book about the Millennials titled “Generation Me” where she concluded that narcissism is markedly higher in the Millennials than previous generations. I think I’m on to something.
So let’s take a look at how these generational trends affect a business. Millennials have a distrust of the country’s institutions, which includes companies like mine. They don’t think in terms of what they can do for the company as much as what the company can do for them. Their work is a means to engage in other endeavors rather than as an opportunity to create a career. Millennials expect to get paid well and move up the corporate ladder as part of the deal, not as a result of expending the extra work to improve your ability and standing. It’s better to get something for nothing than have to work hard to earn it. Sitting behind a computer terminal is much more desirable than labor intensive occupations. Instead of being lucky to have a good job, they feel their employers are lucky to have them show up for work. After that depressing profile, I am starting to agree with Twenge that we are truly in a crisis right now!
Although I generalize profusely about millions of people above, these trends are having a dramatic effect on businesses’ ability to find people who want to work in either the trades or manufacturing. Companies are going to have to pay more and have better benefits while they receive reduced output. There will also be fewer people in the marketplace looking for work that involves sweating for eight hours a day. If you want someone to work on weekends or extra hours, you had better be willing to compensate them well for the effort. Team building consultants will no longer be able to use the term “There is no I in the word TEAM” since the employment base is primarily concerned with themselves. It’s a new world, baby.
I guess we baby boomers have nobody to blame but ourselves. From the start we spoiled our kids with lavish birthday parties, organized sports for every season, the latest in fashion, personal automobiles, etc. Helicopter parents were always there to swoop in and take care of any problem no matter how big or small. Kids were too busy in the summer with their organized activities to hold down a job. I guess I never should have provided trophies for the losing hockey team back when I coached because I was just encouraging that sense of entitlement. Essentially, we got what we asked for.
So what is a business to do? Last week, as I dropped my daughter off at college, I told her not to worry about the fact that her art college was 60% female and that a high percentage of the males were gay. I told her she was more than capable of overcoming the statistical odds if she were serious about finding someone to date. My advice was to embrace the challenge. I think that advice also works for businesses that are trying to attract talent during these challenging times. There are good people out there. It is just going to take more effort and a strong dose of patience to find them.
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