I Wish I Could Help …

By Lyle Hill

I answered the phone just as it began its second ring and offered up my usual salutation. The caller then began to speak in what I interpreted to be an agitated manner.

“Lyle,” he began, “thank you for taking my call. I was worried I might not be able to get through to you, and I really need your help.”

I did not recognize the caller’s voice or the area code that popped up on my caller ID, but because there is always that chance that the caller is someone that I should know, I wanted to proceed slowly and not admit to him that I had no idea who he was. “Well then,” I replied, “I’m glad you got through and what is it I can help you with today?”

“My name is Dwight Pienkos, Lyle, and while we’ve never actually met, I feel like I know you from reading your articles over the past many years. Right now I just don’t know who I can talk to about my problem so I’m hoping you have a minute or two for me.”

I really was busy when Mr. Pienkos called but there was a bit of what I felt was desperation in his voice and he did say he had been a long-time reader so what else could I do but agree to hear his story. Long-time readers hold a special place in my heart.

“Sure, Dwight, tell me about your problem. While I don’t know that I can help, I can certainly listen.”

“Well, Lyle, I’ve picked up a fair amount of work lately and one of my competitors— who I used to have some amount of respect for—just stole two of my best guys. I’ve only had 11 guys on the street so he just wiped out almost 20% of my work force and these were two of my best.”

“And I’m guessing he took these guys by offering them more money than you were paying them?”

“Exactly, Lyle. And I wasn’t even offered the chance to match whatever it was he offered them. Where is the loyalty here? They had both been with me for several years and I had been good to them.”

I immediately felt sorry for Dwight. I, too, had this happen to me more than once and it hurts both personally and professionally. Over time I came to believe that we don’t really understand loyalty … or at least not the nuances of it. Do we expect someone to be loyal to us as employers above their families or themselves? At some point, doesn’t loyalty, like almost everything else in life other than perhaps faith and love, have a price tag on it?

“Do you know how much more they are getting from their new employer?”

“Rumor is that it’s around $2 an hour. But this is coming from the guys who are still here so maybe they’re just trying to set me up for an increase for themselves. Who knows what the truth is anymore? But most important, how do I fix this? How do I keep this from happening again? Like I said, I need help!”

I did not have the heart to tell Dwight that the problem he is facing could actually get worse before it gets better. It seems that everyone I talk with these days is having the same problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s glaziers, ironworkers, filmers, techs or whatever … labor shortages are a real problem for everyone in virtually EVERY BUSINESS. Also, a recent poll produced by a national wire service indicated that up to 25% of the country’s current
employees will be looking for new jobs after the pandemic is behind us. The suggestion is that these employees did not feel that they were treated properly by their employers in response to the pandemic. Then there are those who simply are not all that anxious to return to their old jobs anyway. Some of this has to do with the increase in unemployment benefits. Why work if you can stay home and make the same amount … or more … than if
you were working? Some of it has to do with the upheaval of the pandemic itself. When good people lose their jobs they look and often find something else. Most of these new-found jobs will be in new industries or new lines of work. We must also remember that the labor shortage problem in the trades was already a problem before the pandemic. The labor market has changed and changed dramatically. There is a McDonald’s restaurant in my area that was advertising entry level jobs at $14/hour starting pay with educational
benefits. I would estimate that currently 30- 40% of the retail stores in my community have a help wanted sign up. Signing bonuses are common and I don’t see a near term end to any of this.

“Dwight, I wish I could help. Unfortunately, our industry is one that does very little formal training outside of the union organizations and we are quick to lay off people when the slow times come because we can’t afford to keep paying them to do nothing. This situation has been the source of many a discussion for the past 30 years and still we have no real solutions. I’ve written about it before and I will write about it again. Maybe this is why we have so many small- to mid-sized shops in the industry. It’s almost impossible to grow any business with an unstable workforce.”

“You are exactly correct, Lyle. I have thought a number of times about expanding but, without qualified and experienced  techs, I just can’t do it. But is there a solution to this? Am I the only one with this problem?”

“There might be a solution but it will take a group of shop owners and managers to put in the time and probably a little money to come up with a plan and a program to address this and unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. Some of what’s available addresses the management side of the business, but the non-union field side is not getting the attention it needs. And as to your question about ‘are you the only one with this problem?’ That answer is no. It’s not just you, Dwight. It’s an entire industry in need of help!”

Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. He also serves as president of Glass.com, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 50 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.