South Dakota isn’t just short on teachers or skilled labor. It’s apparently short on applicants for even basic, low-skill positions like retail. The labor shortage driving the Aberdeen Walmart to offer starting cashiers and stockers $10 an hour is apparently squeezing retailers statewide:
“I don’t care if you’re in Mitchell or Watertown or Gettysburg, trying to find that available worker that is committed and returns to work is a challenge that we hear everyday,” said Shawn Lyons, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, in an interview with The Daily Republic.
…Lyons said 15 members of his organization met with U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds last week in Arlington, and everyone shared the same concern.
“As we went around the room, I think almost all of them said without question workforce shortage and availability is their number-one priority right now,” Lyons said [Evan Hendershot, “Retail Stores Struggling to Find Qualified Employees,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.09.05].
Lyons asserts that retailers are “doing their part” by “doing everything they can” with compensation, benefits, and scheduling flexibility to recruit workers. But a Mitchell Kmart manager says they still can’t find qualified applicants.
And what does it take to work at Kmart?
Because the labor pool is so small, the local Kmart hasn’t seen many applications for qualified employees. The Kmart management employee said they look for a person who can carry on an intelligent conversation and communicate while also being able to pass a drug and background check [Hendershot, 2015.09.05].
You’re telling me that everybody capable of intelligent communication in Mitchell already has a satisfactory job and that the only applicants left are dopers and felons? Uff da—free vo-tech for welders isn’t going to solve that problem.
If our workforce is that depleted, then at least one of the following may be true:
- South Dakota’s education system is failing miserably… or at least finally reaching a critical point of failure following two generations of neglect by state legislators who have refused to do their part and raise teacher pay.
- South Dakota’s education system is functioning as well as other states’, but the top products of that education are moving away, leaving South Dakota with a higher proportion of the (ahem) bottom products of our schools.
- South Dakotans need to stop doing so many drugs.
- South Dakota needs a “ban the box” law to facilitate the re-entry of ex-cons into the workforce.
- Lyons needs to expand his definition of “doing everything they can” to get his retailers to pay workers a living wage worth applicants’ efforts.
Even if larger social factors are depleting South Dakota’s workforce, retailers and other employers need to focus on the one thing they can do right now to put warm bodies on the sales floor: pay better wages. You may not like offering more than minimum, but if you believe in the market, for now, you’ll have to keep raising pay and benefits until the market bites.