Blog: Entry-Level Employee Blues

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What do restaurants, retailers, landscapers, and manufacturers have in common — they all need entry-level workers. And, where do companies typically have their largest area of turnover — entry-level workers. Lastly, what segment of the workforce has the highest unemployment rate? Entry-level workers.

For example, at Walmart, the turnover rate is over 60 percent for its entry-level workforce annually, according to a March 2016 article in Bloomberg. Most of these entry-level employees are under 30 years old, i.e. millennials. According to a May 2015 article in Newsweek, millennials represent 40 percent of the unemployed in the U.S. It’s interesting, albeit ironic, that the segment of the workforce that has the highest turnover rate also has the highest unemployment rate.

Traditionally, the battle for skilled labor typically involves luring talent with better wages, signing bonuses, and the like. At the entry-level, there appears to be many more reasons that factor into attracting employees, beyond out witting other employers.

It’s relevant to identify that there are two levels of entry-level workers — college degreed and non-college degreed. Each group has their own unique set of needs and challenges to gaining and maintaining satisfying, full time employment.

Since the entry-level worker is essential for maintaining day-to-day operations, it is important for employers to understand with whom they are dealing within each segment.

On one end of the entry-level employment spectrum sits the GED holder or high school graduate. I have interacted with this employee for more than 20 years as a recruiter. This employee group has many challenges maintaining full employment, many of which start from within the employees themselves.

Let’s start with annual income, a factor the employee doesn’t control. The average high school degree holder in the United States makes less than $30,000 annually ($652 per week). The average non-high school degree holder earns $23,900 annually ($471 per week.

Often these wages need to cover more than just their own needs, such as dependent children. In addition, entry-level wages don’t leave much cash for things like reliable transportation. The lack of a dependable vehicle is one of the biggest issues we see from these employees. This will often result in poor attendance or tardiness. Poor attendance is the No. 1 reason we see entry-level workers lose their jobs.

The result for the employee becomes unemployment benefits, which are 60 percent of their take home pay. An example would be a laid off worker receiving benefits in the amount of $391, instead of $652, per week. Once they exhaust the benefit period, they can simply find another entry level, low-skill job … there are plenty out there.

Sometimes, a reduction or interruption in income will lead people to make negative life choices to earn money, resulting in criminal records. According to dosomething.org, high school dropouts commit about 75 percent of all crimes. With more than 65 million people in the country having a criminal record as of 2010, and 92 percent of employers running background checks, someone with a weak education who has a criminal record further diminishes their job options. It’s a vicious cycle of negative circumstances. When the facts of their life circumstances are understood by employers — essentially trying to employ the nearly unemployable — it’s not much of a mystery why this category of employee hops from job to job.

Sitting on the other side the entry-level work force, typically in a white-collar job, is the recent college graduate. This millennial employee brings a different mindset to entry-level jobs — the so-called college grad, first job, thought process set of expectations.

National media publications portray this view of work as employees striving for work-life balance. Some blogs, written by these employees, promote concepts like the 6 hour work day, rapid promotions to hold their interest, and an overall lack of trust in their employer. How are these employees able to hold onto these beliefs? Because there are numerous entry-level jobs, or, in some cases, they can join the freelancer community and not have an employer at all.

The employers, who depend on entry-level workers, also play a role in this scenario. Rather than get into wages or benefits offered by the employer, I think the most relevant area for clashing between an entry-level worker and “The Boss” revolves around expectations.

Recently I saw something posted on LinkedIn: “10 Things that Require Zero Talent.” It struck me that that this list encapsulated what employers are looking for in an entry-level employee, regardless of a degree status. The list includes being on time, a good work ethic, effort, positive body language, energy, good attitude, passion, being coachable, doing extra, and being prepared.

In order for the employer to screen entry-level candidates that meet their expectations, they need to improve their screen processes.  Here are a couple of suggestions
* Look for candidates who have a track record of achievement … in something
* Ask a ton of open ended probing questions
* Use screening tools like the Employee Reliability Index to measure employee belief systems on attendance, etc.
* Talk about what the company can do for the candidate

Right now, employers need entry-level workers, and vice versa. Instead of seeing the other party as a short-term fit, it would benefit each group if they saw each other as long-term opportunities.

Todd Palmer is founder and president of Troy-based Diversified Industrial Staffing and Diversified PEOple LLC, and a frequent contributor to DBusiness Daily News.

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