Thursday, April 18, 2024

Employment: the doofus factor


I was struck by a blog post over at Come And Make It.  He's an American expat living and working in the Philippines.

Office girl took a class and was not paying attention.  Basically she failed it.  Now today I sent her to get a letter I need for my environment permit.

However since the girl did not pay attention, she has no clue what the gov regulation we are operating under, is called, much less what paperwork she is supposed to pick up.  So then she starts a whole NEW line of useless paperwork instead of just calling me, because the person with my endorsement letter is out of the office.

Meanwhile the 2 new slightly smarter jokers, are unable to comprehend that they should put one scoop of shredded plastic from one barrel, then when that is fed in the machine, a handful of shredded plastic from a second barrel.  so they just sticking it all in at once.

They fail to comprehend is that plastic from barrel number 2 sweeps the sticky stuff from barrel number one and makes the material extrude better.

Some days it is like chasing cats.

I'm very familiar with his problem, having worked for many years in the Third World.  I used to call it the "doofus factor":  employees who were absolutely incapable of doing a simple job by rote, even after it had been explained to them half a dozen times and they'd been stopped and corrected on multiple occasions.  It's as if their minds switched off as soon as the machine was switched on.

The trouble is, that seems to be more and more a common experience in America now as well.  I've spoken to several small businesses in recent weeks, and they all complain about the same thing.  Not only are entry-level American workers slow, lazy and have a sense of entitlement ("I deserve this job!  You can't fire me!" or "It's my right to use my phone/surf the Internet/carry on long private conversations on work time!  That's freedom of speech!")  They won't work hard, and they seem incapable of working accurately.  Young workers who demonstrate that they will work hard, and can work accurately, are in very high demand, which creates another problem:  employers try hard to poach them from each other, offering more money than they're currently earning.  Pretty soon they get an inflated idea of their worth, and price themselves out of the market . . . and then they have to start again at the bottom, often disillusioned and resentful.

That, in turn, seems to be giving rise to a new determination among hard-working young people to enter fields that offer them the chance to work for themselves, no matter how hard that may be.  Several have entered the armed forces, despite all the current disadvantages of doing so, because they want a good basic technical education.  For example, if one becomes an electrical specialist in the military, many of those courses and qualifications carry over to civilian life, and one can become civilian-certified in a very short time.  The same applies to many other fields.  They reckon they can survive the not-always-pleasant military life for long enough to earn their qualifications, then quit and work for themselves.  As one put it:  "I'll never have to work for an a**hole boss again!"  It's hard not to sympathize.

How about you, readers?  Has anyone else noticed this trend?  If so, please share it with us in Comments.  This is worrying in terms of the future of our country and our economy.



Andrew Smith said...

Give me the home schooled kids any day.

Stan_qaz said...

Today's military training is so watered down that it isn't worth much on the outside aside from a very few fields. Even if you get decent training there is a good chance you will end up doing a single task that lets all the other skills atrophy.

Even 10 years ago serving was worth the risk, barely, but today a trade school,is much more likely to lead you to a usable job skill.

Anonymous said...

From the other side of the fence - I have a son with a math major who spent lots of years overseas working as a missionary. He is back in the states now working an extreme number of hours trying to make up for the earlier low income years. The company is taking advantage of that by loading him down with death march hours. I've tried to get him to cut back a little, but so far he's focusing on trying make up for lost years. While the company may think they can replace him in a few days if he has a major medical event...can they really? You'd think companies would take better care of good employees. At some point it seems companies are getting the employees they deserve.

Chris Nelson said...

Like Stan says, trade school is the recommendation for younger people that want a skill.

Military is a terrible bet considering today's environment. Almost all friends and family members with military service including myself have been discouraging anybody from joining since the second Obama term. It hasn't gotten any better.

audeojude said...

It's absolutely a big problem here in the US. It's been a while since I had employees. In 2000 because of a very bad blow up with some unethical business partners I restructured my company from a full service and sales to a service only company with only myself employed :) It has made my life immensely better. First I quite selling products as being in IT most computer everything has really low margins and as a small company even when we had 13 employees what we made a year on that margin even before the take backs for warranty issues was not worth the trouble it took. However the biggest issue that I ever had was employees. These are people that were to me the cream of the crop. Self taught and technically competent for entry level jobs as computer techs. 19 to 24 years of age on average in the 1998-2000. They were moderately educable in technical subjects to bring them more up to my level. However outside their interest in computers it was a big fat fail. Trying to teach them how to interact with humans (ie customers) was just about impossible. No matter how many times it was explained, even down to role playing with them it just didn't stick. Also trying to get them to understand that part of their job was installing hardware we sold to the customers and not advising that they could get the same hardware for 5 dollars cheaper online themselves. After the 3r or 4th time for any given person that I had to deal with an upset customer that complained to me that we were cheating them and selling stuff for higher prices than online because my own tech said so, grr.. I fired a few that just couldn't get it through their heads that that margin was absolutely ok as we were spending money that was sitting on the shelves for the convenience of being able to fix something right now for a customer rather than a week from now to get a part delivered and also to pay his ungrateful ass the money he was taking home each week as an employee. We were paying about a 25% premium for our area when we hired entry level people that we though were technically competent in the hopes we could keep them for 2 to 4 years before they moved up in the industry. I found that narrow technical competence did not mean that most people were competent people.

As to the being unable to train them at all. I have at other jobs I had let people go for that. Very few for truly being unable to learn. Most for not wanting to learn or work. Just wanted to show up and spend time to get a check. Most of those unable to learn that I dealt with I hated to fire as they on average were trying very hard and were just unable learn complexish tasks reliably due to mental competence due to some condition or age related mental decline. Most of those were very nice people and it hurt me greatly to have to let them go.

audeojude said...

Continued from above
Those that didn't want to work I would happily give them their preference after the 3 or 4 counseling with complementary retraining sessions and send them no more work :) They tended to get upset that I quit sending them money also but in my universe those that do not work do not get paid.

so i don't have a lot of current experience directly with employees of my own as its been 24 years since I had any. I am around my customers employees on a regular basis. They are constantly complaining and in many cases having to put up with semi competent people as there is a very high lack of the competent ones to hire. Semi competent is even in high demand nowadays.

I am left wondering someday's if the average people are less mentally competent due to environmental poisoning brain damage?, substandard education?, cultural corruption of the im owed variety?, I don't know.

I have a cute story that highlights this issue involving my 9 year old daughter. We have raised my kids on stories of her mom and I hustling as teens mowing yards, and a plethora of other things done to earn money. My youngest the 9 year old seems to had an epiphany and went to her mom and said she wanted a lemonade stand to make some money. I was so tempted to advise her that it wasn't going to be that easy as eventually the city will catch up with you for business license and food service issues nowadays but decided not to dampen her enthusiasm. Mom helped her go to the store to get stuff and was present on the day she did it simply as a chaperone body guard. My daughter had to spend her own saved gift money to purchase materials such as cups and lemonade powder mix with lemons to cut up and put in. She borrowed a 2.5 gallon drink dispenser we have and clean and scrubbed it and made her lemonade herself.

Let me set the picture of where she was selling. We are 15 miles from anywhere out in the country. about 3/4 of a mile is a gas station on a cross roads and across the road from it is a very very small mini storage units.. maybe 10 units with no fence or anything. Most weeks one or two days a well people pay the gas station people who also one the mini storage units a few dollars to sell used stuff or whatever they have there. It doesn't seem profitable for the most part. I would be shocked if some of them make 200 dollars for sitting there all day. This was my daughters target place to set up. Her and the wife were just going to show up and start selling but I kindly reminded them that they had to ask the guys at the gas station first as it was their property. Here is where for me it gets interesting. Nothing to do with my daughter other than she was the catalyst for the following events. I am very proud of her for her willingness to put her self out there and put her money where her mouth was. Very proud. That being said I expected it to be a mostly failure on that Saturday morning.

First the gas station people warned her that technically it was illegal without a business license but that she had their permission and they would even step in to help if anyone said anything. That blew me away. They also didn't charge her.


audeojude said...

continued from above

My daughter only made 2 gallons of lemonade, She had 12 ounce cups which meant she could only sell 20 cups of lemonade and she priced it at 1.50 cents a cup. So her max estimated gross revenue was only 30 dollars. She spent 17 dollars or so on the cups and drink mix and some lemons. I had to bite my tongue so hard not to try and tell her how to do it and that she need ed more lemonade and to charge more than 1.50 a cup. It was hard for me you have no idea. lol :)

So tell me how she made 150 dollars in 2.5 hours of sitting there on 20 cups of lemonade. they had a couple times where 4 and 5 cars were stopped at once. People were turning around and coming back to get a cup of lemonade. Did I say that the weather was actually a bit cool. Way more hot chocolate and coffee weather than Iced lemonade weather.

When my wife called me to brag I was flabbergasted. I started asking questions. According to her mostly it was older men with a few women and the common theme was they all praised my daughter for her initiative and told her to keep it up with comments like "we don't see people working hard like this anymore" and "it's good that there is still a few kids with ambition doing stuff". The average customer paid with 5 to 20 dollar bills and just said keep the change. Maybe 2 or 3 actually wanted change back and only paid the asked for 1.50.

My takeaway is

I will never be able to compete with a Young, Cute, Female, Kid. She waved at the passing cars all the time she was there and was personable and polite which went over well also.

I think that there was a massive nostalgic response to the nowadays unicorn and epitome of the American dream of hard work and entrepreneurship that the lemonade stand run by a kid represents for us of the older generations. You don't see it anymore, what you see are the youtube videos of our bureaucracy shutting them down and even fining them for attempting it. The comments were about how you don't see this anymore and praise for her to keep doing it.

This brings us full circle in my windy convoluted way to saying that we have changed as a culture and society that such a profitable commotion was made about a lemonade stand on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with little traffic. The massive reaction is the counterpoint, pointing to a major problem we now have of lack of initiative, governmental barriers to entry in the market place creating disinclination to even try or having to break the law to try unless you have the ability and pockets to deal with getting a business license and all that comes with it, willingness to risk your money on doing this type of activity, lack of willingness to actually work at all. Though my daughter is a beautiful young lady of 9 years of age and a very polite and cute personality, her appeal in selling lemonade on a cold day was not the lemonade but the vast empty chasm of contrast in today's society that left her activity on the side of the road stand out like a blazing torch in the night for those of us that are nostalgic for and that we sit here complaining about todays youth not doing anymore.

I was never happier nor sadder about her success this past Saturday, happy at her personal success and sad at our nation that what she did stood out that much.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised, and disappointed, at how much employers complain it's hard to get workers but then won't do anything to keep the ones they have.

Some companies are their own worse nightmares.
I work with federal agencies that are pushing bigger and bigger decisions and contracting down to lower and lower pay levels, then having to deal with lawsuits and poor workmanship - of course they are! There is a reason for the saying "you get what you pay for".

Xoph said...

Companies see people as disposable and interchangeable. Managers at the deckplate level do not, they are the ones who are in touch with reality. However, they don't set policy nor the hiring criteria.

The second issue is efficiency. Businesses are now all about milking the employees in the name of efficiency rather than finding a mutual and reasonable relationship. If the employee isn't taking advantage, the employer is. This is the classic management-union dynamic, but it plays out even in a non-union environment.

Being semi-retired, I work at a big box store part time and talk to the youngsters there. We have good kids, and bad. Part of the problem is there is no leadership from the managers, nothing to inspire. Everyone acts as if pay is enough. It is the simple answer, but incomplete. There are issues with training and working with people and letting them know good and bad behaviors. You can't assume, especially with what the young are being taught in school.

I've worked in other places, and the store I'm at is well-managed compared to others. I like my fellow employees, young and old. But we do have tremendous turnover, and it is company-wide. Turnover is high for the youngsters and for the night shift. I'm working for my own reasons and none of them are affected by company policy. As near as I can tell, this is the same for anyone over 60. Interestingly enough, while I can work just about any department, having been there and done that, they wanted to start me as a loader, loading appliances in the parking lot in July. As common with age come back and knee problems. I get they needed a loader, but not one in his 7th decade. I wouldn't have lasted a week. I told them no, and fortunately, they listened.

The other thing is the scheduling system will schedule however it wants. Since I work for myself part-time in addition to the box store, I can flex to some degree, but they will change the schedule after I have made commitments based on the initial schedule. Our scheduler works wonders and as long as I let her know in advance, it gets fixed. However, many people don't speak up and feel they get jerked around. The initial response is, "Well that's life in retail." As a part timer I also only get one weekend off every 6 months and two weekends a month I work both Sat and Sunday. My wife works a regular job, so this puts a crimp in our weekend activities. Additionally, I might get 8 hours one week and 20 the next. I can flex, but what about others with more regular commitments such as classes.

No one in an office sees this as a problem. For me, I'll live. For a 20-something enrolled in college and trying to make a bit of spare change, it's very frustrating. Having done work in Six Sigma and improving efficiency, I can tell no one is looking at the true cost of turnover. I really don't know if they are taking action to address it. Complaining about the workforce and wishing for something different isn't dealing with the problem.

Anonymous said...

I noticed it at first with first nations workers, we had a couple that could not learn how to use a dewattering pump no matter how many times taught or even given written instructions. Lately i'm finding it with most young workers. We had a pipefitter who was a journeynan who whined putting on a bolted accessory was too hard. Then did it wrong 3 times even with written instructions with pictures. When called on it, he said instructions were not clear enough


audeojude said...

Quick comment on trade school. I don't know the details but our local community college which is mainly a trade school and has provided a very good education for a very low price for more than 50 years has gone to free tuition for those that qualify for any federal help using the FASA system. My understanding is that all non private South Carolina community colleges or trade schools are doing this? I heard third hand from my wife who is a teacher so I might be missing some of the finer details.

Even if you don't qualify full tuition for locals is only $2625.00 a semester. call it just over $10000 for any 2 year degree. My wife got a 2 year degree from there before going the full university next door for her 4 year degree. Cut costs of her degree by a significant amount. Both schools have agreements in place to feed students from the 2 year degrees into 4 year degrees to help students get their degrees cheaper buy doing the first couple years at the tech school.
The university next door charges 5800 a semester or around 48,000 for a degree. I got my degree there in business and didn't find it hugely helpful given who I am. Looking back I wish I had taken a couple of interesting but more trade oriented subjects at the community college.

I joined the army to help pay for college and ended up with a lifetime disability for my knees and back that both figuratively and literally been a pain in my back with the limitations it has imposed on me. I could have skipped the military totally and just gotten a 2 year degree that I could have afforded out of pocket with the jobs I had back then. It was less than 500 dollars a semester back then if I remember right. 2020 in hindsight. I chose the path I took out of part patriotism and a family history of military service, wanting money for college that was partly to prove to my extended family that I wasn't a failure and that my mom who raised three of us by herself wasn't a failure in raising us either. Based on what happened and how our military is used now I have a hard time not being ashamed of serving with any patriotic ideals at all. I still tell kids that its a good choice if your poor and need a hand out of a bad financial background or just to get you away from bad friends etc situation and that you make sure you go in on a tech track and not combat arms. Other than that I pretty much advise not.

All three of us siblings put ourselves through college and only my brother makes any money with his degree. He got an art degree specializing in ceramics and has a part time job teaching ceramics at a catholic college. His main job is as a kitchen designer, back to the trade orientation and he has made more than me or my sister in his career.

Xoph said...

Inspired by Audeojude I'll add a second part,

A society improves our expectations go up. If we each become more productive, we should have a choice of more time off, or earning more money. While worker productivity as an average has increased 2% per year for the last 50 years, many people are still working 40 or more hours per week when working for the man. This site has talked about true inflation, look at inflation versus wage growth. Work should be getting better, not worse.

With respect to people skills and charging customers a premium for fixing it now, most students have not been taught how to run a business. Business is villanized, and given the way many corporations behave, it should be. Many small or family businesses are trying to be good neighbors, putting themselves at a disadvantage.

I will go so far as to say the purpose of a business is not to earn a profit. Profit is the consequence of good management. When profit becomes your only metric, then you have lost the bubble. This is also true for shoppers for whom cost is the only metric. Look at how Wal-mart has changed over the last 40 years. They used to sell American made and the sales team was knowledgable, friendly, and helpful. Now...

To answer the question above, a business facilitates providing a good or service that the purchaser can not or does not want to provide on their own. Imagine if everyone had to raise and butcher their own cows. Businesses allow large group cooperation to improve our lives. I am a capitalist, but not one enamored with financialization.

JNorth said...

We bring in about 15-20 new hires every summer as engineering technicians (highway construction inspection and testing). Last summer we canned a couple, one couldn't get off his phone long enough to do any work and the other couldn't figure out how to use a shovel even with training. The majority are okay, about as good as good as the group that started with me 23 years ago. We don't have as many sticking around as before but that is more due to our pay not keeping up, it starts at ~$20/hr. which is the same as Home Depot (McDonalds starts at $15 here).

JustPeachy said...

It's part of the inflated credentialing crisis. Not cause or effect, just part of the same problem.

Many years ago, it was decided in the bowels of the US judiciary, that administering any kind of IQ test in a job application process was discriminatory, as there was disparate performance between certain groups on said tests. So that was banned.

After that, a college degree became the preferred way to sort out people who could read and follow directions, from those who could not. So now instead of a couple hours of testing for that job, you need a four-year-degree. Then, because disparate groups were attending/completing college at different rates, we came up with a bunch of programs and admissions jiggering to make sure disadvantaged people went to college in greater numbers. Standards were bent to make that happen, and now the four-year degree is worthless and you need a master's degree. Seven years of college, to replace a stupid aptitude test. And of course, with all that college debt to pay off, those guys can't afford your entry-level pay while they train to do something useful. They can't live on that and service 100k+ in debt at the same time.

Some companies get around this by recruiting veterans based on their military MO. Some military stuff transfers to civvie jobs, but a lot doesn't. The main thing is, if you got into xyz MO, that means you passed the aptitude test to get into that MO, and the employer can use that as a proxy for the aptitude test they are not allowed to administer.

Any way around, it's an easily solvable problem, that we are not allowed to solve. Aptitude tests work. That's why the military still uses them.

John Galt said...

One of the things that has surprised me about the current work force is how many 20-30 yr olds are just barely computer-literate. ( At least in S. Texas.) I had expected them to be able to make the computer sing, dance and do cartwheels.On average, not so much. As a group, the new hires seem to be very good in a VERY narrow field. (Whatever their interests are). They also have no real understanding of what the work environment is. Recently an employee who had been trained and re-trained multiple times said "I don't know how to please you. If you want to, you can just hire someone else." To which we replied, em yeah, we are the boss....we can indeed hire someone else. Shape up. We tell them to regularly check their emails and text msgs. We tell them (The"Seniors") to monitor any communications/feedback from the public. Yet time and again we find they don't have idea our customers have a question or complaint. So someone from upper management has to check and recheck just to make sure things are getting done.

Dan said...

It's the Competency Crisis...and it's growing. Anyone trying to address the issue gets attacked by the insane liberal left. And as if we don't have enough incompetence here the left insists on importing millions of incompetent invaders. We are NOT an intelligent species. We USED to be a clever one. We aren't even that anymore.

Zaphod said...

Lots of Boomers free-associating and dumping anecdotes.

The crux of this post is that some naive American goes to a third world dumpster fire of a country, mean IQ ~80

and is shocked/horrified that the decidedly average (you can be sure that the high IQ outliers are *not* working in his little factory) to below-average munchkins can't tell their asses from their elbows.

Race is real. IQ/g is real. Plan accordingly.

And FWIW I *like* Filipinos. Known many good and bad ones. Known some who are smarter than me. But I know what a Gaussian distribution looks like all that it implies, too.

There are other issues with the educational system in West so beloved of Boomers Booming... but really when it comes down to it... after a century or so of almost unlimited opportunity for upward mobility in the West... at this point if you're 3rd generation hardscrabble / trailer park... well it's yer genes and no amount of 'education' is going to fix it. Hire and associate accordingly.

Anonymous said...

It's the Philippines. What the everloving heck did he expect? Cry me a river, Mr offshoring production bcuz cheaper. When the collapse comes, try not to get eaten first. Then gay, you're in the Philippines, not Haiti, so you might be fine.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with John Galt. The last time I taught in college, I found most student couldn't really use a computer. Some of them couldn't even read.

audeojude said...

Adding to Mr Galt's post.

this is my field. IT... I got started in 92 and started my first company in 95 providing computer support to my local area. I'm still doing after selling my first company, losing my second to unethical partners and currently am 24 years in on my third.

by about the year 2000 I had enough experience and saw the trends in internet and advancing usage of computers to have an opinion of what the future would look like for the average citizen regarding computer literacy rates. I WAS WRONG!!! NEVER MORE WRONG!!!

I had expected that most of what I did in the 90's due to people not having used computers before would be common knowledge by say 2010 or so. I had this opinion in retrospect because a lot of the early adopters of computers were excited about them and actually put some effort into learning about them and how to leverage them for personal or business reasons.

What actually happened is that computers mean nothing to the average person their interest is using a limited set of functionality and they could care less how it happens. If they know how to text, use TickTok, Facebook, YouTube etc.. their interest in computers stops dead. If they are an employee expected to use a computer you are lucky if they put in the effort to use the specific application need in that business whether it is Outlook for email, Google web mail, and any industry specific applications. Because interest is high on games on average you have to fight to keep them from playing webapp games on business computers while at work.

I find that current users of computers in my interactions with them fixing their problems have about half the knowledge the average user in 1999 had. It's so bad that in troubleshooting issues over the phone they don't have enough knowledge to describe in a manner capable of telling me what they are seeing on their screen, or simply downloading teamviewer and installing it on their computer so I can jump on it remotely.

Also as a secondary reason for some of this. The OS's on our computers and phones now do pretty much everything for us that used to be harder in setting up and using your computer. All the stuff I did in the 90's to help people setup a PC is done by the pc itself now.

audeojude said...

As to the IQ distribution someone linked to.. that is frightening. I didn't realize the averages were that low even in our 1st world nations. However I will note that I don't think it is particularly accurate as those tests use acquired knowledge against age as a major component of their process. That means native intelligence isn't as much measured as access to education. Mack Reynolds an old school sci fi author I really liked had a book called Ability Quotient that I really liked. The basic premise is that to get a meaningful look at someones productivity you can look at their IQ nor their Education but at their ability to apply those. An ability quotient!

I have pondered for years about this as I fall fairly high both in IQ and Education based on the fairly bullshit metrics used for testing, yet I don't really see myself as that successful. My ability to turn those traits into advancing my life in a commercial sense of moving my self forward economically has been pretty abysmal. I feel way better about my emotional growth as I watch it applied to my family and friends and feel more successful there which gives me some consolation that I am being successful in life in some ways.

I think IQ and Education do give a very very rough indicator on a statistical basis for groups that might have a higher likely hood of being successful or more competent but in my experience it fly's out the window as soon as you apply that generality to an individual.

My worst hire ever was highly educated and utterly brilliant, also the most undependable and frankly frightening to be around our customers. I hired him and paid him a salary 30% larger than my own. Technically we got what we paid for but in reality due to interactions with customers he cost us more than we were paying him.

When hiring entry level techs, college degree people always required more hand holding and retraining to deal with real world case scenarios. Based on this and a bunch of other anecdotal observations and experiences I tend to think a high school degree with a passion for what you need done people are a better choice than college degree people. I realize for some professions it's pretty much required to get that knowledge in a university environment in today's world but not for 85% of every other job out there.

Mind your own business said...

There are plenty of horror stories to go around about employees and employers alike.

If you hire someone smart and they become demoralized, it's likely a manager problem, not an employee problem. There is so much micromanagement and stupidity in the workplace these days.

If an employee is asked to do obviously stupid and wasteful things too many times, they will learn not to care in short order. If they are asked to do things that are not directly related to the core business operations (e.g. DEI, sensitivity training, ESG garbage) they will learn that the business tolerates waste and inefficiency in order to push social group-think, which has NO business being in the business environment.

That said, the pool of potential employees is increasingly populated with kids brought up in highly regulated environments. They haven't learned to think for themselves, to improvise and overcome when conditions are not ideal. They become paralyzed when everything isn't textbook.
Hire kids who grew up on small family farms if you want someone who can think on their feet and improvise or repair something.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of CEOs can cry me, as a Gen-x, and millennials and Gen Z a freaking river. This guy's problems largely originate from moving his business to the Philippines. That's called sitting on your own dick. But the kvetching about the "younger generations" being entitled? If this guy is Gen-x like me, he needs to turn in his card in exchange for an honorary Boomer card. Every gen since the Boomers had been screwed, millennials and Gen-z even more so. Like 1,000 times as bad.