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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 5 September 2014

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

You've probably seen the signs around town - they are every where to be found.  They come in different shapes and sizes; they use different colours and fonts.

Jobs Jobs! Jobs! they promise, giving no other information but a phone number.

I've thought a lot about these signs of late, as well as conflicting information about the job market.  People like Andrew Coyne suggesting things are tickety-boo with employment numbers - not perfect, but hardly worrisome.

Meanwhile, the on-the-ground reality seems to be quite different.  Many youth can't find anything, many trained adults are shut out and way too many people are working two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Something doesn't at up.

Back to the signs.  The only reason I can think of to call a number on a sign that says nothing but "jobs" is that you either have no skills or are desperate.  Otherwise, you're doing what youth are taught - focus on your skillset and seek work that aligns with your pre-existing ability.

What of the people on the other end?  That they'd go to so little effort in their advertizing does not bode well for how seriously they take their employees.

All this was on my mind these evening as I took a phone call from QuickSilver snow removal, doing routes in my area.

After the woman on the other end (who sounded like a Torontonian) had read her script, I asked her where she got my phone number; her answer was "from my supervisor."

"Where did your supervisor get it?" I asked.  She didn't know. When I asked to speak to him, she said he I couldn't.

"I'm asking you for some pretty basic information, and you're not being helpful," I suggested. "It's not the best way to start a business relationship."

"I don't care what you think," came the answer, and the phone call was ended.

That it was exceptionally poor customer service didn't bother me; it happens.  The evident lack of training, though, I found interesting.  She had no segues, no comforting statements, no hooks, no anything.  Even political campaign volunteer phone-bankers tend to be better prepared than that.

Which brings me back to the signs.

In a successful economy that is weathering the storm, as it were, there are jobs that pay sufficiently for people to earn a living and have cash and time left over for toys, sports, entertainment, travel, etc.  That's how other jobs get paid for.

Quality work of any kind takes a certain amount of training and selection, which also cost money.  When companies do their own training, they have more control over the final service product, but it's a cost they have to bear.  

Many employers don't want to spend these days, especially on training or HR.  Instead, they're talking about the need for job prospects to be more competitive, more aggressive, to play golf, etc.  

Theoretically, the more competitive et al you are, the higher-paying a job you will be able to secure.  The notion that employers would want to exploit work, well, that's just silly, or implies somehow that the labour force which clearly has lots of employment options are easy marks and probably deserve what they get.

Competition drives everything up - skills, wages, the economy, etc.  Unsuitable companies get eaten up by the free market, survival of the strongest, so on and so forth.  That's exactly the frame our Prime Minister has been pushing.

But what happens if that's not the case?  What happens when employers don't care about HR or the market, because all they're offering is something like shoveling snow from driveways?  It's a transaction, like buying a Tim Hortons coffee - you want the product at low cost, period.  

How hard is it to make coffee?  How hard is it to shovel a driveway?  Exactly.  

So, to maximize profit, all other costs go down.  Investment in HR goes down.  Quality of service goes down, even on the sales side.  So what?  It's like picking up at the bar; get slapped in the face 9 times, the tenth will go home with you.  

So there are jobs that offer little pay, little personal value and poor service but that desperate people must be lining up for, given how many signs are out there.  They do poorly at their work; perhaps the service end isn't so great, either.  

No problem for the employer; they just put more work on fewer employees and keep their margins decent. It's all just business, don't you know - if their employees had any value, they'd be working somewhere else.

Much of this is speculation based on annecdotal evidence.  I also know there are a lot of great employers out there exploring best onboarding practices and employee engagement.

But you have to wonder.  

When I talk about policy plans to make our country/province more competitive on traditional manufacturing, I often say that the only way to compete with the Bangladeshes of the world is to lower wages and work-related costs (like safety) in par with theirs.  Meanwhile, they have sick children working in factories, factories collapsing due to infrastructure neglect and a growing grassroots rebellion against the kind of Dickensian labour conditions they face.

I say that to mean it's a lowering of the bar we wouldn't be willing to accept here in Canada.  

Now, I wonder if, in at least some cases, that's already happening.

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