Finding Competent Workers, Part I

Tom Crouser June 4, 2012 Comments Off on Finding Competent Workers, Part I

By Tom Crouser

Conventional wisdom is that we can’t find good help anymore regardless of how high the unemployment rate is. And the fact you can’t find good help, or at least the perception you can’t, creates adverse consequences like a breakdown in discipline. How can you hold people accountable to show up on time if you need them more than they need you? Well, to some extent, you can’t. You can’t especially if you are scared of having to find a replacement when there’s “absolutely none out there.” So who picks up the slack? You do bringing on 90-hour weeks and all-nighters. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You can find good help but you have to work harder at it. I’ve attacked this subject from time to time over the years, but since I’ve been getting emails on it, I thought I would post some of the basics as a permanent record. [Original article first published in the Crouser Report of February 1998 and regularly updated.]

Most tell me they “ran an ad but it didn’t work.” Okay, let’s start with what you say in the ad. Most I see say something like this:

Press operator wanted. Must be sober, dependable, willing to work overtime. Must have ten years experience on my specific press. Slovenly workers need not apply. Pretty Fast Printing Company.

What’s wrong with this approach? If you don’t see anything wrong with it, then that’s a large part of the problem. Macho ads do nothing except make the owner feel good. Owners often feel that ads like this, “weed out slovenly workers before they apply so I don’t waste time.” Unfortunately, it keeps good workers away also because no one wants to work in this type of atmosphere.

We can increase our response rate from qualified applicants by 200% when we understand that the purpose of the ad is to sell the prospect on working for our company. For example, let’s change the ad to:

Press Operators – move up to a Ryobi two-color with this aggressive Smithville printing company. $15/hour 2 weeks’ vacation after one year. 7 paid holidays including day after Thanksgiving. Health, disability, life insurance half paid by company including family coverage. Retirement plan. Join this involved owner and spirited team. Call xxxxxxxxxx.

What’s the difference? In the second ad we sell the advantages of working here. In the first ad we limit the number of people who apply. Why do we do want many to apply? So we will have more options. And don’t worry about being bothered. The recruitment and retention of workers is one of the main jobs of the general manager (president, CEO, whatever). This requires time of the top person. So get something for it.
You may be saying, sure anyone could get workers if they could offer them all of that. If you can’t afford those kind of benefits, then advertise what you have but, in the meantime, focus on providing your workers a competitive environment by building these costs into your budget. Our clients generally do and, as a result, have an easier time attracting and retaining workers.

And, they pass along the costs to the customer. How? Higher prices. How can they get higher prices? Because we have people who can solve the customer’s problems and customers will pay more for skill and competence. It’s an upward spiral of success.

What about wages in the ad? In a tight labor market I get better results with a wage in the ad than without one. If you don’t get responses at that rate, you can run the ad again at a higher rate until you do.
It’s the Crouser Corollary to the old Iacocca Rule when he was at Chrysler. Lee Iacocca (then Chairman of Chrysler) said he had plenty of jobs at $17 an hour but he didn’t have any at $23 an hour? His logic won the day and saved Chrysler at that time.

My corollary is that you might not have applicants at $8 an hour, but you sure as heck would have them at $30 an hour wouldn’t you? Yes. Well, all you are talking about is wage level, not the availability of workers.
Wages are an important part of the attractiveness of a job. More than one printer has told me they couldn’t find anyone to work in a high cost, low unemployment market because they offered low wages. At that time they offered $8 an hour when most were getting $12-$15. Why didn’t he raise the offer? He couldn’t afford to because, “Customers won’t pay.”

Generally in situations like this we often find owners are spending more money on things they don’t need and taking it out of the pay of workers. Simple solution here is to revisit the owner’s attitude through the budget or exit the industry.

One of the successful printers I know was in one of the highest cost and tightest labor markets in the country. They pay very well and charge high prices and make lots of money in the process. The only person who can’t is the person who is convinced they must charge low prices while paying high ones.

In this industry, we all buy the same equipment. We locate generally in the similar areas. We have generally the same hours. We buy the same paper at the same prices. But not all print shops can print well. How come? Mainly it is the people within the print shops that differentiate us. Customers tell us that they want to deal with people who can solve their problems. That’s the reason the owner in most shops is in such high demand from customers. They set themselves up as the only person who can solve the customer’s problems and, as a result, they can never take a vacation. Hire qualified and competent people and you will find that many of your problems go away. So, we are back to our recruitment campaign.

When do you run the ad? In most areas, running the ad in the Sunday paper is still prime territory. With the predominance of the Internet, most ads run on the local paper’s Internet job site as well (often ran by a national company). I find this to be quite productive. Usually less productive is running an ad on a national website expecting someone to move across the country to work in your print shop. Can’t say it never happens, but the odds are better sticking with the local newspaper connection.

How long? Most Internet/newspaper combinations run one or two Sundays and then are live on the website for 30 days. This doesn’t mean you have to wait for a month before you begin processing applicants. It does mean that your offer will typically get full exposure in a month.

So this is step one. Run a good ad. Step two is to have a good response process which I will cover in my next post.

Tom Crouser

Other articles in this 2 part series

Part I, Finding Competent Workers Click Here

Part II, Finding Competent Workers Click Here

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