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August 2011 From the Editor
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How Can It Be So Hard
to Find Good Employees?

By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief

As of June, unemployed Americans numbered 14.1 million, more than 44 percent of them out of work for over half a year. That figure does not even include the 2.7 million discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job or the 8.6 million underemployed who can only work part-time. With so many people struggling to make ends meet, it should be easy for service centers to find individuals who are not just ready, willing and able to work, but highly motivated and truly appreciative for the opportunity to earn a paycheck. Ironically, that is often not the case.

Take the experience of Lane Steel, a flat-roll distributor near Pittsburgh. The company’s president, Paul Gedeon, is surprised and frustrated by the difficulty he has had in staffing his growing operation. “We want to add a truck or two, but we can’t find a trucker we feel comfortable with. We also have five positions open on the shop floor, and we are having trouble filling those spots,” he told me during a recent visit.

Lane Steel uses the services of a temporary employment agency. Gedeon feels an agency is more qualified to recruit and screen potential employees. They conduct background checks and drug screenings to verify each candidate’s character before sending them to Lane for a 90-day trial. “It’s surprising how many people have trouble making it through the drug screening. It’s pretty bad,” he says.

The available pool of candidates is likely further reduced by the government’s extension of unemployment benefits. “The extended unemployment is certainly helping people who need help, but some are taking advantage of it,” he believes.

Another obstacle is steel’s image as a mature industry with little opportunity and jobs that call for a lot of hot, dirty manual labor. In fact, like so many industrial companies today, most service centers offer decent working conditions and fair compensation levels. Yet few people want to work in a steel warehouse, Gedeon says.

So, while one would expect the market to be full of low- to medium-skilled workers eager for a job, the pool available to service centers is dramatically reduced by lethargy, disinterest and ignorance.

Looking ahead to the busy season, Gedeon is concerned he may not have the manpower he needs. “We have deserving people on staff who are getting overtime right now, but we may not be able to handle the business in the fall if we don’t get some new blood in here,” he says. “With 9 percent unemployment, there has to be people out there.”

  
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