by Steve Young, Argus Leader (a Gannett publication)
Sioux Falls, SD
Trail King Industries CEO Bruce Yakley shared a mind-boggling statistic with me the other day about a group demographers call "The Entitlement Generation."
It seems his Mitchell-based company hired 280 production workers last year between his plants here in South Dakota and up in Fargo. Assemblers, painters, welders -- most of them fell into that age group that was born between 1978 and 1997.
The generation he and I raised.
So get this -- of the 280 new hires, only one remained on the job a year later.
"We lost 279 of them," he said. "Mostly because of work ethic issues."
They simply didn't show up for work at this business that makes open deck and material handling trailers and walked away.
People will ask: Well, what was the company paying them? Someone right out of high school with zero skills started at $13.50 an hour, Yakley said. With perfect attendance -- using, say, vacation time when they're sick -- an employee could earn a $500 bonus the first year, $750 the second and $1,000 the third. They average $375 per quarter in profit sharing. They can make $1,500 by referring an employee to Trail King that works an entire year.
Tired of the assembly line? Trail King will pay to send them through welding school, a job that can earn them $50,000 in base salary, overtime and bonuses, Yakley said.
And still 279 of 280 walked away.
The syndicated columnists have an absolute free-for-all with "The Entitlement Generation." They're the young people who were never told "no" because Mom and Dad wanted to be their friends and not their parents. They got trophies for showing up to the T-ball games even though they never made practice. They post any vulgarity they want on social media because they have freedom of speech.
"My generation," Yakley laments, "screwed up the kids of this current generation."
He's not the only who thinks that. I've talked with CEOs across Sioux Falls' business landscape and many of them, particularly in the manufacturing sector, agree.
Here's why it's a concern at Trail King. For training and other workforce development purposes, the company invests roughly $8,000 per employee. That means last year Trail King spent $8,000 times 280 new workers. "That's a little over $2 million that went down the drain," its CEO said.
Here's why it should be a concern for all of South Dakota. Yakley figures his company is turning away $20 million in business because it can't find enough good, dependable laborers.
That's just one hit on the South Dakota economy. He knows in talking to his peers in industry that his isn't the only business losing out on opportunities.
So what to do? The state needs to invest even more in technical education, Yakley said. Whatever baggage they might bring with them from their upbringing, the members of "The Entitlement Generation" who have gone through welding at Mitchell Technical Institute and ended up at Trail King "are excellent," he said. "They will be leaders on our shop floor."
His company is more than willing to invest in that promise. Now it simply would like to see the state make an even greater commitment to the training of those skilled laborers as well.
Teach them how to weld. Teach them skills that translate into a rewarding career. And maybe spend a little time on work ethic, showing up when you're supposed to and earning that paycheck.
To do otherwise, as we have unfortunately learned, can be mind-boggling.