Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Garrett was still learning the ropes as the new night clerk at the low budget motel on the edge of Brattleboro. I asked him what he did before. “I was a machinist,” he said. “I worked at an aerospace precision machining company, but it was really high stress.” “How was the pay?” I asked. Garrett made a face- “Not good. It didn’t make up for the stress of knowing that if I made a mistake, people would die.”
We make a dangerous assumption when we believe that if we just get people connected with the right training for in demand jobs that they’ll be set on a path to economic security. Employers seem to forget that a contract of employment is a two-way street. Employees are under no obligation to remain in a job or a field that makes them unhappy. And when compensation doesn’t make up for other privations of dignity and peace of mind, and there are no other incentives in place to counteract pressures, workers are wholly justified in examining their own market options and making other choices.
It seems counter-intuitive that someone with a marketable skill like machining would choose instead to take a minimum wage low-skill job as a second shift front desk clerk, but when the wage differential is minimal ($11.20 / hr vs $15 / hr), the quality of life factors matter more.
No one knows why employers seem so deeply reluctant to increase wages and improve compensation. J.B. Hunt, a major national trucking company, just announced that they’ve increased wages 10% and, not surprisingly, witnessed an increase in interest from prospective employees. The fact that this is considered news is striking. If these same companies were trying to sell a product but not meeting sales goals, they’d look into adjusting the price point. Jobs are products. Hiring is as much about selling a job- particularly in a robust labor market- as it is about finding the best person for the role. All of the pristine career pathway planning and talent pipeline development in the world won’t make up for a lousy workplace.
If you’re wondering why your company can’t find top talent (or any talent), look at what you’re offering prospective employees. You might be surprised.