How One CEO Chewed Through 279 New Hires In One Year

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In an economy that is still rife with problems despite the relatively low unemployment rate, you’d think that a good, well-paying job is something most people wouldn’t walk away from. Given the economic uncertainty and struggles of the middle class, it would be difficult for many people to give up a good opportunity. So, how do you explain the mass exodus of employees from a small South Dakota company that starts entry-level employees off at more than $13 per hour, and offers profit-sharing incentives?

If you take the CEO’s word for it, it’s because millennials just don’t have that same “uphill, both ways” mentality of previous generations. That’s why Trail King lost nearly every single hire they made last year, according to chief executive Bruce Yakley.

“We lost 279 of them,” Yakley told the Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls-based news outlet. “Mostly because of work ethic issues.”

Yakley explained that he had hired 280 employees to work in the Trail King Industries‘ plants in Mitchell, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota, doing work that included welding, painting, and assembling trailers and trailer parts. As the Argus Leader reports, most of those hires had been born between 1978 and 1997 — putting them into the millennial generation classification. And that generation, as we know all too well, has been hit hard with accusations of being lazy and entitled.

That’s exactly the problem Yakley says he ran into with all 279 of the employees who left his company. “My generation,” Yakley said, “screwed up the kids of this current generation.”

The company pays a fair starting wage, has a profit-sharing program, and even offered workers paid tuition to learn new, lucrative skills, like welding. Apparently that wasn’t enough for 99.6% of his hires, who opted to take their chances on the open market instead. As the Argus Leader explains, Yakley and other South Dakota business owners are finding it hard to keep these millennials on staff, and they tend to blame the entitled attitudes of the employees.

But when you lose 99.6% of your workforce in one year, is it really an employee problem, or is it a management problem?

The truth is, despite what Yakley may say, that kind of turnover is hard to blame on some kind of generational rift or attitude problem. Yakley might not have been personally responsible, but losing 279 out of 280 employees speaks to a deeper, institutional problem. His factories, for example, may have been horribly mismanaged. Or there may have been some undiagnosed or undisclosed safety concerns, because it’s hard to believe that 279 relatively young laborers in the Dakotas would be willing to walk away from a decent gig in the current economic climate.

Evidently, poor work ethic wasn’t the whole story. A follow-up piece from the Argus Leader says that Yakley’s ex-employees weren’t happy with being called lazy and entitled, and pointed to unfair workplace policies as one of the reasons Trail King’s employees opted to split.

“This is ridiculous to have a generation blamed for being lazy or bad parenting because you make a place so miserable to work,” former Trail King employee Jeff Prader wrote in an email to the Argus Leader. “I feel you should get some employee input from the older employees or people that didn’t stay at a place like that for long because they knew they were getting treated like a slave.”

With those complaints in mind, it’s hard to think that bad attitudes and entitlement were the driving factors behind losing 99% of Trailer King’s workforce. The more likely culprit is a poor work environment — which is enough to make anyone want to leave their job. Also of note, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is very low, hovering around 3%, making the option of leaving a bad job much more attractive and feasible than in other states.

One other thing to keep in mind is that the oil and gas fields are relatively nearby, creating a draw for many workers looking for higher wages. Though things have slowed significantly with the drop of oil prices, there is still a hotbed of economic activity going on that could attract workers away from places like Trail King.

There likely is some level of entitlement among Trail King’s former employees, but it’s hard to think that can be blamed for the loss of 279 of 280 employees. The company’s CEO is in intense competition for employees, whether he realizes it or not, and in order to win them over, it looks like some changes are in order.

Assuming, of course, Trail King’s management isn’t too entitled to think it should adapt.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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