A Problem for Small Business in America Today

Published On: December 20, 2018By Categories: Business Management, Drawing from the Well, Workforce Development

Finding new employees for the workforce is a common issue for many firms. What’s the answer?

By Gary Shawver, MGWC

When I discuss topics to write on each year in Water Well Journal, one pops up every time: the graying of the workforce, or to put it another way, finding new employees for the workforce.

This is a difficult one. I’ve read articles outlining how we need to adapt our business to attract a newer and younger generation of workers, but frankly, I’ve always wondered why should we adapt to them?

Over the years I operated my business, I always looked for solutions to make things easier so employees drilling a water well could do so while “not working as hard.” And while there will always be new ideas and technologies making tasks easier in the field, the long and short of it is drilling is still hard work. And it still has to be done in the mud, the cold, the hot, and the dirty!

And that scenario doesn’t make it easy to attract employees. Additionally, the days are often longer than 8-hour workdays and the weeks are not usually 40-hour workweeks. If they were, most drilling businesses would not be able to survive without drastically increasing prices to offset the increased costs of operation.

Intense Competition

So how is one to operate a business today in the environment that this industry demands? It’s not easy at all. Yes, there are young people out there willing to do the work our industry requires, but they are few and far between.

Competition for blue-collar workers is intense. The skill level required today for the drilling industry is much higher than it was when I started in the business and had options for the workforce that were much more plentiful.

Since our industry requires most individuals to be able to obtain a CDL with many endorsements including tanker and HAZMAT, finding individuals who can simply obtain a CDL with these endorsements is difficult. Often, many applicants applying at my former company have driving records the insurance company will not allow to operate our vehicles, much less get a CDL.

I always felt I was the eternal optimist and every problem could be solved by being creative and networking with other contractors to get their input. And while I don’t like to be negative, frankly there is not an easy solution to the issue of finding new talented employees.

Two Options

I think the problem is the culture in this country has changed dramatically in the last 18 years. The mentality that all young people must go to college and get a degree is killing the blue-collar workforce in this country. Often, young people end up with college degrees not marketable in the workforce—and with a college loan that will be difficult to pay off before they retire.

So as I see it, there are two solutions:

  1. Build your business to the point where you can afford a full-time recruiter/human resource administrator.
  2. Grow your own family and teach them as you grow your business.

I expect some of you to be taken back by these either/or suggestions, but the reality of it is these are two viable solutions. Why so?

Yes, there are young people out there willing to do the work our industry requires, but they are few and far between.

If you have a full-time recruiter, you can be out there in front of high school senior classes putting on seminars about your business and a career in the water well industry. Additionally, your recruiter can be at job fairs, put up flyers in local stores, develop recruiting brochures, and the like.

Yes, there is a cost to hiring and recruiting, but it is highly competitive out there for those few people who are willing to work in this industry. Hiring highly competent blue-collar employees and retaining them is your best asset for your business. After all, without good people you have no business!

Growing your own? That’s how I got into the business. If my father had not been self-employed and had not been able to take me along when he was out working, I would have had no interest in running the business. Most children like to look up to their parents, and if the father is out there working a trade with his hands, the child is naturally going to learn those skills his father has.

So, while both potential solutions are off the beaten track, they are solutions that can work. Think about them and ponder if they are solutions for your business.

Feel free to give me your feedback as well.

Gary Shawver, MGWC, is president of Shawver Well Co. Inc. in Fredericksburg, Iowa. He has been in the water well industry for more than 40 years and is a Master Groundwater Contractor. He served on the NGWA Board of Directors. Shawver is semi-retired, having sold his business to his employees. He can be reached at grs@shawverwell.com.

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