Plenty of Workers, But No Workers

By Lloyd Graff

We fired a Manpower temp working in our machine cleaning area yesterday. Nothing unusual. They normally last from one day to a month. It’s hard, dirty work. Hector, who runs our cleaning and painting department, is demanding and intolerant of slackers or dummies. We pay $16.75 an hour for temps, but the workers get around $10 an hour. It’s no harm-no foul employment.

Last Friday’s unemployment stats cheered some people, angered others. Non-farm payrolls added 288,000 jobs, a big number. But there was no increase in wages, and a meager 16,000 jobs added in manufacturing. Another stat – 43% of jobs added in the last year paid less than $16 an hour.

Connecting the dots from my viewpoint as a small business person – there is work out there, and good jobs, but it is very hard to match up the capable workers with the good jobs.

At Graff-Pinkert, our used machine tool firm, we hire folks for the long haul if they are capable, hard working and reliable. We train them, upgrade their skills and treat them honorably. We used to regard temps as rookies who could make the team if they show promise. Today this approach seems obsolete.

So I look at the employment stats and think to myself, nobody has time for workers with a bad attitude, iffy transportation or drinking problems. Do I have a prejudice against the long-term unemployed, the lazy, or argumentative folks who are waiting for the cellphone to ring on the shop floor? Yes, I do.

I have looked at temp agencies as a timesaver, because they supposedly vet the workers, but it appears that they do not or cannot provide a temp for us with staying power.

The active workforce is shrinking these days, which is taking the unemployment rate down. The number of people actually working in America is growing slowly. A new group joining the workforce is the ex-military leaving Afghanistan. Even with all of their desirable qualities, this is a challenging group to integrate. The war scars are very deep and enduring. Those who have spent a tour on the front lines are often long-term casualties, even if they escaped harm physically. I grieve for these men and women, but honestly, I might be anxious about them if they applied for a job at my shop.

The job situation in America looks a lot better on paper than it really is, both for the job seeker and the potential employer.

The small number of manufacturing jobs being filled today is not so much about a flat area of the larger economy, but employers being fussy about people who look like they have limited upside and plenty of downside risk. Overtime beats issues. 

Questions: Any suggestions how to find decent moderately skilled workers? How have veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan worked out at your company?

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28 thoughts on “Plenty of Workers, But No Workers

  1. Mike Carbaugh

    You stated
    (:but honestly, I might be anxious about them if they applied for a job at my shop. 🙂
    Most of what you said; I agree with. But many who are on the fence about hiring Vets may now pass them by. That
    would be a shame.
    You said you might be anxious.
    Would you be anxious if you grandchildren went on tour ?
    If no one went would you be anxious if the Taliban showed up at your door, and asked to be hired?
    Without those men and women going over and doing their duty , you would be at the mercy of such groups. They would tell you who to hire. This is all my personal opinion and not that of my company. But if it were me, I would be personally more careful not to harm the changes of those returning from war from getting a job. You and I can only have this conversation because of those who have returned; and for the sacrifices of those who did not. Normally I like your editorials. But this one was in my opinion unknowingly careless.

    1. Josh

      Mike while I respect your opinion and have the utmost respect for the men and women in our military, the wars of the last decade had nothing to do with our national security. Our men and women in uniform don’t choose where and how they are deployed, old men and women in Washington who increasingly have never served make those decisions. The wars of the last decade have created more terrorists than they’ve killed or captured. Your position that if we didn’t send our friends and families across the world to die in a worthless desert the Taliban would be showing up at our door is absurd.

      1. Ron

        Josh, did I miss something? Who was it that showed up on 9/11/2001 at the doorstep of a few thousand people? I thought it was the taliban.

    2. Todd

      I have worked beside many a vet in my time, and have yet to be “anxious” about them as a co-worker just because they served our country. OK, maybe I’m a bit biased, but those vets that Lloyd referred to are men and women who serve shoulder to shoulder with my sons. One is in the Marine Corps, and the other one in the National Guard. They both tell me it’s a different kind of crazy working in the civilian world for irrational bosses who have those kinds of prejudices about vets. Rather than being cautious and anxious about hiring them, we should be giving them every chance we can to transition to civilian life, and giving them a standing ovation for their service. (regardless of your political bents or your view on war.) That’s the American thing to do…

  2. Lloyd Graff

    Mike, the veterans piece was hard to write but honest. I have a read a lot about the struggles of veterans to adjust after combat tours. From what I read including a long piece from a recent New York Times, veterans would agree that they do not make great employees as they try to get through their post traumatic stress.

    I wrote the piece to stimulate discussion on a very hard topic.


  3. Greg MacPherson

    I hired a lot of vets for my shop after the 1st gulf war & never regretted it. (had my own tank crew!) They all didn’t have quite the rough experiences of later day war zones but even today’s vets I have worked with & some I am related to, are generally ready to work & understand what it means to get a job accomplished. Everyone gets dirty at work – there are just different kinds of dirt. Give me someone committed over someone who hasn’t made up his/her mind any day. Hire some Vet’s Lloyd – and learn to work with the current generation(s) of solid people – not just casual throwaway labor. You won’t regret it if you are dedicated to a better country to live in.

  4. Tom Silvestrini

    Your remark on veterans is way off base. I find it interesting you have developed an opinion of them with no experience to back it up.
    We have been hiring vets since 2000. We have them in service, sales and now middle management. They are some of our best personnel. We operate in the oil and mining industries, and these guys are right at home traveling all over the world on a moments notice. They don’t get rattled when times are tough. They are prompt, courteous and hard working.
    Do yourself a favor and hire a couple…. You will find yourself filling your ranks with them.

  5. Tom Costello

    Your comment regarding the position(s) being discussed “machine cleaning” is “hard and dirty”. Dry ice blasting makes it tremendously less hard and minimizes the dirtiness while greatly decreasing the time it takes to clean. Want to know more? Call me – 513-305-1002.

  6. George Smith

    The unemployment rate was not the story.
    THE story was first that 800,000 left the work force.
    and second it was reported that 225k of the jobs that were “Gained”
    were a seasonal adjustment so adjust that down to 50k jobs.
    Take a read at Shadow Statistics to see the REAL unemployment rate, based on the labor force is 25% compared to the laughable 6% (yea right)

  7. Jake

    I don’t know where to begin…

    Temp agencies are used by companies that are too lazy to do their own vetting of potential employees. Instead of paying the temp agency $16/hour, list the job opening at $16/hr. and you’ll get a better pool of applicants. If your first hire doesn’t “feel” like a good fit, fire them after the first week, and try again. (If you think you can turn an ugly duckling into a golden goose, you’re wrong). Yes, it is going to involve some WORK on your part (reading applications and resumes, and performing interviews) but finding that capable employee is going to make it worthwhile. But trying to find a capable employee while paying minimum wage is just STUPID – which is precisely what you’re doing by using a temp agency…. $16/agency, who pays the employee $10/hr… brilliant thinking Lloyd.

    Your views on hiring veterans is… (I’m trying to grasp the correct adjective here)… so Liberal… (that’s still not it, but it’s as close as I can come). “Well I’ve read books and stories about hiring veterans…” and you followed up with “I meant to say I’m referring to PTSD…” BLAH-BLAH-blah Well, I’m a veteran. And I hire veterans. (Although I only hire honorably-discharged veterans). And I’ll take my soldiers over any civilian that has read lots of books about the dangers of “hiring veterans” – with or without PTSD.

    1. Josh

      You should try elaborating on your position with an emphasis on fact or personal experience rather than resorting to ad hominen attacks that make you look like a fool and only weaken your position.

  8. Advanced Technology Services

    It’s unfortunate that you feel that way about veterans. We have been actively hiring veterans since 2006 and have found them to be highly competent, strong leaders, great team players, and very dedicated to our organization. We will continue to pursue veterans proudly, as they now comprise 25% of our workforce throughout the U.S.

  9. Lloyd Graff

    Read what you will in the blog. I am not anti veteran, but as an employer I think it is naive to think PTSD is not a problem for many combat veterans. If you are hiring you look at the whole picture. To argue that combat stress does not affect veterans does not ring true to me.

  10. Mike B - Vet


    I am a vet who had similar experiences as many of our troops have had in middle east. While there is PTSD it is not a common thing I have noticed I do agree it is out there. I have been interviewing, hiring, and promoting verterans for many years and many more to come. I also spend much of my time in the community with vets as they / we are most of what is left of the backbone to tradition at home and in the work place across the USA.

    I think you should reconsider or retract your article when speaking on behalf of veterans as it is not an accurate statement and does not represent them and all they sacrificed in an appreciateive manner. If anything you should be thanking these individuals for the sacrifices they will live with for the rest of thier life.

    People like yourself dont deserve the life style our military has preserved for us for so long; you are quick to capture the treasures of a democrsatic society but are even quicker to shun the people who make it happen for you.

    Think about this at the least…..

    I do not agree with you

  11. yu

    Lloyd, if in the current employment environment you can not find employable people what will you do in a few years when unemployment drops back to Bush or Clinton era levels? Consider also looking inward and asking why won’t people work for my company for any length of time? Is your assessment of the situation biased as an owner? That is; do you have a normal turnover it just seems worse. Any statistics on your retention rate? How does it compare to comparable industries/companies?
    You seem to have no problem finding/employing hiring agencies so wages must be OK. But you are not paying $16/hour for the job, from the employee’s view you pay $10 and few or no benefits.
    Lots of other points but don’t have the time and not getting paid, that’s all the free situation assessment I can give.

  12. Bill Turley

    Lloyd, your expectations for someone doing a good job with machine cleaning for $10 is out of whack. Pay the person the $16 or more, treat the person properly and your problem will probably just go away. You are just beating a dead horse!!!

  13. Ed Gnifkowski

    In my first company in the 70;s I was a Korean war vet running a construction specialty company. When I bought it the field crews numbered about 30. I went through several employee roll overs and ultimately made the most money when I leaned down to 12 field employees, 9 of which were Nam vets. A bit crayzy, maybe, but the greatest bunch of people I’ve ever been associated with.
    To this date the ones that are not retired are either managing other compaanies or running their own.

  14. Val Zanchuk

    I don’t think vets are any different from the normal pool of potential non-vet employees, many of whom have drug, work ethic, or other problems, all of which could make you anxious.

    We use temp agencies, and they work well for us. We pay the temps well and we normally hire them at the end of the contract period. We also hire through employee referrals (and pay a nice bonus fee to the employee for the referral). Being in a rural area, advertising for employees in the local papers can be a long and very expensive process. We have stopped doing this. We have had some success with posting jobs through social media.

  15. Steve Ruoff

    #1 I respect all people that have served our great country and it is not them who are trying to ruin it…our politicians that continue to think they know what is better for us then we do ourselves!
    As for hiring skilled people in a true Job shop has been very very challenging for way to long I can buy all the equipment and have gotten descent tax breaks in doing so but I can not find people capable regardless of backgrounds. Just because I can list 1st class at 80k per year with full bene’s doesn’t mean they are out there. I am not Wal-Mart that has a line out the front door to hire the next person…it is not that easy! We need people that want to perform to a higher level and get back to what made us what we are. (The greatest country in the World! )

  16. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    If I were hiring I’d see being a Vet as an asset more than a liability. The training and discipline they go through and learn is great job training, and the risk for mental problems or substance abuse is no higher than in the general population, these days especially. When you hire you never know what you’re getting for sure, but when you hire an honorably discharged Vet you know exactly what they’ve been up to and for how many years. They have a perspective on America and on work that non-Vets don’t. They know hard work and how to be respectful. For what it’s worth I think Temp agencies are a waste too. It’s hard work going through apps and interviews, but you will end up with better quality people who you can know better, pay more and retain.

  17. Randy


    I admit I did not read your entire blog, but I read many of the comments from other readers. The use of agencies, although not something I have done, is common with many other shops I know and even more of my customers. The $16.50 the agency charges covers all the associated taxes, W/C, prescreening and reasonable compensation for the agency. it provides generally entry level potential possibilities to the employee that is looking for a chance. Having someone say “pay the employee $16.50 does not take into consideration the extra costs of taxes, w/c, the hassles of interviewing and the associated potential problems with having to fire someone and start again.” So a $10.00 pay to the employee for a $10/hr job should not be the issue.

    I have many people here that start at or near minimum wage. I have probably half of our staff working at under $12/hr and 80% of them at $10.00 or under. Many of the $20 to $30/hr employees started that way, so you can get quality people at $10/hr. The current veteran we have started for less than $10 and in a year and a half is now at $15 and I suspect will be at $20 by this time next year. Great kid, and I would love to find more just like him. What I would suggest for you LLoyd is to speak with someone from AcuMax or Advisa, both groups having worked with our PMPA association shops that provide testing that helps match a job to an applicant. What kind of job will make a person feel fulfilled, match their basic wiring and allow you to learn to manage that person to reach the goal you both seek, a fulfilled employee that is part of the team.

    It is unfortunate that our media today promotes the exception of PTSD and the challenges faced by a number of vets and as a result those of us will little other personal exposure do find there is some realisitic concern. I have hired ex-gang members and as a result I have had issues with fights, where in a no tolerance policy we fire both people on the spot, the agressor and the victim. We have had employees dating and then had the exhusband show up and take the women away at gun point. We have had issues of drugs on site. As an employer our responsibility is to the safety of the employees, and when concerns of that work place violence are real, or planted in our minds by media or stories of other owners, then if we do not act accordingly on the side of caution we are being unfaithful to those we employ.

    I appreciate the fact that you offer your own experience, plus are willing to put out before others the “good, the bad and the ugly” side of personal struggles with values and things that in your heart and sole you find challenging.

    “Iron sharpens iron” and the opinions and view of the others here I hope will be seen as an opportunity to challenge each of us, rather than being a place to “rant” like our local Clipper’s owner.

  18. Charlene

    We hire temps all of the time. Occasionally we have drama with them or a person shows up that slacks off but by and large we have had some very great workers come through and many of them we have hired on permanently. Keep the faith, there are still great workers out there who will do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay!

  19. Jeff

    Hi Lloyd, I’ve grown to look forward to your blogs, but after reading this one I felt something different than in the past – really disappointed. I can appreciate your thoughts on temporary workers and some of the struggles many in the industrial sector deal with in terms of good employees and fair pay, but I was disheartened by your opinions on those returning from service in Afghanistan and other combat zones.

    In the past you’ve explored the conflict and frustration you feel regarding ingrained racial prejudices. I’m sorry to say that what you said about these returning soldiers is, in my humble opinion, another form of prejudice. You’re lumping a collection of this country’s best and bravest with a select number that have been negatively impacted by the difficulties of their voluntary service to our country.

    I wore the uniform for 12 years – serving as an infantry instructor in the Reserve. I was never deployed so I can’t provide first-hand knowledge of what’s it like to operate in a war zone. However, I saw a number of troops following their deployments. The vast majority came back with a mindset that was focused on an overwhelming appreciation of the live they have, the country they live in and the opportunities afforded to them. This perspective, while potentially earned from exposure to some of mankind’s cruelest measures, is what can make these heroes true assets to any organization.

    While there is an undeniable number of returning soldiers that will struggle, I’d encourage you to take a closer look at the way you’re potentially stereotyping this collective and try to reach through the pre- or in some cases misconceptions about their attitudes, capabilities and potential contributions to your company.

    1. Brian


      In our company we temp to hire at about a 50% success rate for our entry level positions. We support our local tech schools and hire grads every year whether the company is up or down. We have an employee development coordinator on staff for helping employees grow and develop into their careers. The thing I am most proud of though is we hire vet’s every chance we get.

      I am amazed at your selfishness. The liberals are very good at blaming someone else for something they would not do themselves. So you do not want to deal with it – so you label it and give it to some politician – government program to figure out. The gift you have in communication is tremendous but you are not using it to help others. You and your company will not reach it’s true potential until you realize that you too have to give back into your industry & community personally by providing without taking. There is no government program for that – just your heart & conscience.


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