All the Wrong Places

By Lloyd Graff

The conventional wisdom is that “I need employees, but I can’t find them.”

This seems odd to me. I’ve been hearing the same lament for so many years and it still does not ring true. In a workforce of 161 million people in the U.S. with millions of ambitious, bright, stable people there are always going to be folks who want to make a change to improve their lot.

Allow me to throw out a few ideas that may kindle a new approach to finding productive employees or fresh employment opportunities.

  1. Stop looking in all the old familiar places. Don’t be so linear. There are white collar people, maybe even in your own company who would rather be in the plant, actually involved in making things directly. Have you asked around lately? We recently hired a person who had been repairing cell phones at a Batteries Plus shop. Met him while we needed an emergency repair on an iPhone. He had been a computer science major who dropped out after 2.5 years because of money woes. He impressed me with his intensity and conscientiousness and I left him my card as I left. He called to ask or an interview shortly afterwards and I hired him. He says there are other talented mechanical people in their shops who would readily leave for an opportunity to better themselves. He was making $15 an hour.
  2. Use social media to prospect for people who are in your circle of acquaintances or who might be connected to others in your chain of “friends.” Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are enormously useful in extending reach to “non-linear” people who would never have reached your glimpse. Graff-Pinkert recently hired somebody who had just been laid off after 20 years with a company. His wife saw a brief notice in a local web page mainly aimed at local babysitters and gardeners. He was a bit shell-shocked about losing his job, but his wife knew us through her administrative job and it led to a fortuitous hire for both of us. He has been a great find. Social media is enormously powerful because it circumvents the usual employment matchup services with a much more creative searching technique, “the grapevine.”
  3. Forget about “the drug test.” How often have I heard the lament, “we can’t find anybody who can pass the drug test.” Maybe I’m naïve, but marijuana usage does not mean somebody should be blackballed out of hand. A more serious drug problem will become fairly obvious in an interview or, worst case, soon after hiring. Amazon is hiring tens of thousands of people these days. I am sure some are people who might not pass a strict drug test. They wash them out quickly if they can’t do their arduous job. If they can do the job they don’t really care what they do at home. Do you drug test all of your current employees, randomly?
  4. Don’t be a slave to the company pay scale. Talent is always a valuable commodity. Ask yourself if you are hiring, how much incremental value to the firm could a particular person add to the company. If the person would allow an extra $250,000 in annual revenue and would cost $60,000 it would make sense to hire her, even if the prevailing wage was $50,000. I think we get hung up on cost rather than value. I know there are few secrets at a company and jealousies can be a problem, but so is lost opportunity.
  5. If you are the boss and you realize you made a bad hire, fire the mistake quickly.

Question: What creative hiring ideas do you have?

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11 thoughts on “All the Wrong Places

  1. Dave

    I hired a guy one time to work as a mold maker. Our pay scale sucked making it difficult to attract a good one, so I believed if I got a guy with a good machine shop back ground, over a period of time I could bring him up to speed as a mold maker / repairman. We were so desperate for mold makers, I was told to make an offer, if he accepts to send him for the drug test, and start him the next day. There was some foolishness from the local hospital in a timely return of the results. The man worked a full week and on Monday afternoon his results showed up. The guys in the shop liked him. He was proving to be a perfect fit. And the results came back bad. The hospital notified him at home first. He had to explain to his wife and 17 year old son that he had slipped back to an old problem. His wife filed for divorce shortly after. He came into the shop on that Monday before the hospital notified our HR dept and wanted to tell me and the guys at the same time. He cried as he explained what we had not been told about yet. He quit as HR told him that if he failed, we would have to let him go. I was just sick about this. So were the guys. I don’t think they said a word the rest of the week. The shop was dead silent. We all lost. I’m sure that I would NEVER start a person before the required drug test again!!!! I’m not sure that we as a company didn’t make a mistake. But the rules are the rules, whether I liked them or not. The president of the company told me to test him again in 90 days and rehire him if he passed, at a lower rate of pay. This certainly didn’t impress me in any way as a deal that was good in the long term for any one. I am not sure this is much different than a person with an alcohol problem. If they are performing their job, who cares. I believe corporate America needs to rethink their approach to drugs and alcohol in relation to hiring.

  2. Seth Emerson

    Sad to read Dave’s comment. In reality, though, the guy should have known before hiring on, that he would fail the test. What was he thinking? Over the years, we have both tightened and loosened restrictions on hiring. Reference “job-only” questions during interviews, cannot ask about “family” plans, etc. Perhaps the drug-war in America needs to be toned down – at least on the long-term punishment end.

    1. Just another Canuck

      “Perhaps the drug-war in America needs to be toned down…” Now there is an interesting concept for all of the USA to ponder.

      1. Doug

        While I agree that the war on drugs has focused too much on the end user and not on the supply chain, I don’t believe this is a fight we can back away from. I live in Dayton Ohio, the heroin / fentanyl OD capital of the nation, I can’t see not trying to do anything we can to turn back this scourge that has decimated so many families and is only getting worse. That being said, our pre employment regimen does not include a drug screening, but we do test for reasonable suspicion and accidents. We have tried the usual job board postings, social media, recruiters, and are currently running radio ads to attempt to bring in new talent, but had diminishing success finding people who can hit the ground running upon their hire. We have mentorship programs and tuition reimbursement with OTJ training that have reasonable success but the talent pool of experienced machinists and programmers gets ever more shallow as we go. I hold out hope that market forces will work to eventually fill the gap, but we are quickly approaching crisis level in the mean time.

  3. Russ Ethridge

    Spot on Lloyd.
    Value is the talisman. Cost is only one component of value.
    As far as drug testing, employers mistakenly think it is some sort of litmus test, but it’s net is not very good at catching real problems. For example, cocaine, an insidious drug, leaves the system in a couple of days. The guy who stole a nice drill from work to buy coke to toot all weekend will test clean on Tuesday, but the gal who smoked a joint with her all girl rock band during practice in her basement two weeks earlier will test positive and get fired because evidence of marijuana use stays in the body for up to 30 days. The real problem employee skates, only to underperform or, worse yet, steal again, and the reliable worker is booted. Seems ridiculous to me.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    Good comment Russ, particularly in light of the fact that you provide enormous value as both a lawyer, advisor and sounding board.

  5. Mark

    Back in the 80’s I started work for “No Name” Defense plant and there were no drug tests. I was put on night shift and my Supervisor said ” don’t be on the back dock at break”. Weeks later I did go out on the back dock just to get some fresh air only to smell the heavy smoke of marijuana. Just a few machinists were there. As years went by drug testing became the norm and many were walked out. Quality did improve, but I think it was more due to new equipment and better training. It went from the wild west to a more regimented work place. I liked what we became better than what we were. Now with my own shop I continue, and have seen Dave’s story play out many times over the years. It is a modern day delima.

  6. Bryan Willman

    All fair and true.
    How much of this is realistically forced through by other entities that set the rules?

    Can you have a government contract without at least “certifying” a drug free workplace? (Caused a moment of drama in the software industry a while back.) Will you be able to get any sort of required or merely wanted insurance? Will a bank lend you money without such insurance?

    It’s not *necessarily* just “bad company policy” – it might be bad policy imposed by other entities….

    And of course, there are whole industries (transportation, say) where you don’t get choice…

    Which suggests its a topic of political level discourse rather than company management level.

  7. Grimstod

    There are to many regulations in the hiring process. This prevents companies from asking the tuf questions they need to ask to find people that will fit their needs and vice versa.

  8. John

    Oh the world of drugs! Half will agree and half will disagree with this rant. First of all disclosure: I get paid to interview company employees for their drug test results.
    Illicit drugs are bad for your health- period. Most, if not all of the prescribed controlled drugs (Narcotics, benzodiazepines, stimulants, etc.) used long term (longer than 2 weeks to a month) are bad as well. When you start taking more than one of these drugs (illicit, prescribed or legal to include alcohol and tobacco) the problems just compound.
    In the workplace the employer is the only one who loses in this game as the employer has all the liability and all the financial risk/loss- worker’s compensation, disability, lost production, injuries, broken equipment, insurance requirements, regulations, lawsuits, etc. In addition any employee or member of the pubic injured by an impaired employee adds an additional layer of liability for the employer. Thank your elected officials.
    Drug companies, alcohol companies, tobacco companies and now the marijuana (mj) companies have significant political influence. The medical field is not immune to this influence either. This political influence then pulls in law enforcement, corrections and companies offering rehabilitation. The result is a legal, societal, and financial mess.
    Let’s talk about the drug topic of the day- marijuana. Marijuana legal states allowed mj on the market with no regulation on packaging or content (percent of THC). As a result kids ended up in the emergency department from ingestions. Accident rates in those states have gone up. At this time there is no solid information or test to determine if someone is impaired under the influence of marijuana unlike blood/breath alcohol levels. Marijuana is not a benign drug for young developing brains or chronic users (10 point drop in IQ by middle age). The naysayers will think otherwise and I say fine just don’t expect to work for me or with me. Start your own company and employ all marijuana users you want. If you think mj is benign then send your kids to colleges in the states where it is legal- show your support. Talk to some parents who have sent their kids to schools in mj legal states to see if they have had any problems. You might be surprised at their responses. On a side note you have to ask yourself why most people prefer to smoke mj- because it goes straight to the brain.
    To find some answers to the drug problem will take sound, independent research and that will cost money, a lot of money. Drug companies, pushers, and the government love their profits so I don’t think the issue will be solved in the near future. I have no problem with a person using drugs just take personal responsibility for your actions and have a way to pay for the consequences. Don’t expect your employer to accept any behavior detrimental to the company or your co-workers and don’t expect legal protection either.
    Regarding compassion for drug users- a friend was compassionate and rehired a drug using employee after the person went through “rehabilitation.” The compassion ended after the employee got in an accident and sued the company. The couple injured by the “rehabilitated” drug using employee also sued the company.
    In summary, if you think drugs (illicit, prescribed controlled substances or alcohol) have no bad effect on the individual taking them, then I will be happy to load your neurosurgeon, pilot, nuclear power plant worker, machinist running your million dollar machine, etc up on drugs the night before they come into work. I would be looking for ways to automate my services or product to avoid this problem. You are not guaranteed or have the right to a job at birth and no one is stopping an individual from starting their own company if said individual chooses to use drugs.
    Beware of what you wish for in the world of drugs and their legalization!


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