Press "Enter" to skip to content

Key to South Dakota Workforce Problem: Lazy Millennial Bums?

Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley has a history of blaming everyone else for his workforce troubles. Blame Obama. Blame towns and the state for not working together. Blame everything but low wages.

And now, blame the workers, millennials, 99.6% of them lazy bums:

It seems his Mitchell-based company hired 280 production workers last year between his plants here in South Dakota and up in Fargo. Assemblers, painters, welders — most of them fell into that age group that was born between 1978 and 1997.

The generation he and I raised.

So get this — of the 280 new hires, only one remained on the job a year later.

“We lost 279 of them,” he said. “Mostly because of work ethic issues.”

They simply didn’t show up for work at this business that makes open deck and material handling trailers and walked away [Steve Young, “Trail King Hired 280 Workers Last Year and One Remains,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.05].

Don’t blame Yakley for not paying enough; heavens, no! He tells Young that Trail King starts zero-skill workers at $13.50 and hour, offers attendance bonuses and training, and they don’t stick around.

But Yakley will blame himself and his whole generation for indulging their kids too much:

“My generation,” Yakley laments, “screwed up the kids of this current generation” [Young, 2015.05.05].

Really? The problem still isn’t in management, in capitalist exploitation, in the boss’s thinking he’s entitled to every man’s labor for less than what the market will bear, but in the entitlement mindset ascribed to all those workers, 99.6% of whom apparently found better things to do with their time than punch Yakley’s clock for whatever pay he was offering? If Yakley is right, isn’t he calling into question the whole Midwestern work ethic that we South Dakotans like to think makes us special compared to all those Coastal elites?

Lazy millennial bums as the root of South Dakota’s workforce problem—I’m going to have trouble swallowing that one.

Update 21:17 CDT: Mr. Ehrisman suggests Yakley take another look at the working conditions in his plant.

Update 21:21: An eager reader recalls this KELO-TV report from October 2013 on the SD Wins/Manpower workforce recruitment snafu, which at that time had delivered fewer than 100 of the 1,000 jobs promised. 65 of the recruits went to Trail King. If Yakley’s retention has consistently stunk, then a majority of the workers recruited by Manpower walked right back out of the workforce within a year, leaving that state recruitment effort with an even more dismal record.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-05 20:15

    First off, how much did the state pay Trail King to relocate to South Dakota?
    Grants, low interest loans, training programs?
    If Trail King can’t retain those welders the governor promotes, who will? Oh yeah, North Dakota oil fields have a home for them.
    As my friend Owen says on Facebook, “Why work for $15 an hour when you can go to work in North Dakota and earn $30 per hour”, or something like that.

  2. Joe 2015-05-05 20:18

    He is probably right to some point, but the problem isn’t even so much the low wages its the rural lifestyle. I worked at an ethanol plant and we had many of the same issues, as soon as they got some experience they left, many times just unannounced. When I talked to the guys they said there is nothing to do in town, so when I got a chance to move to Omaha, or Denver, or Minneapolis I took it.

    But its an environment as well. When the majority of the educated folk (teachers, nurses, etc.) are 10-15 years older because they are all leaving the state as well, you leave as well.

  3. grudznick 2015-05-05 20:25

    It’s hell, Joe. Soon all that will be left are the really old fellows like me who need people to take care of them and the young and dumb people who don’t know how to take care of us.

    Then we all die and the West gets rewilded on its own.

  4. John 2015-05-05 21:20

    If you are not going to make a significant income, well, you can do that about anywhere. Millennial folks are not buying blue sky and I don’t blame them. Wish I would have figured it out sooner……..

  5. Donald Pay 2015-05-05 21:32

    Roger hit it on the head. I think those millennials are economically smart, and not lazy. Maybe $13.50/hour sounds good to someone out of high school, but you still can’t raise a family on it without government assistance. By moving 4 hours northwest that youngster can make far more money in the oil fields, or in some other assembly job up there.

  6. David Newquist 2015-05-05 22:09

    When 99.6 oercent of workers walk away, that is a pretty astounding vote with the feet. But that story is the symptom of a deeper problem. The so-called journalist did not fact check. Any reporter who received a claim like that would find it so incredible that the skepticism alarm would be deafening. And any editor to whom that story would be submitted would turn it back to the reporter with instructions to do some verification and some digging. And a good editor would tell the reporter to find some of those people who walked and get information from them, too. But not with the South Dakota media. Their jub is too suck, assiduously but soothingly.

    And any human relations person who was confronted with a statistic like that would be skeptical, but if the statistic held up, the first question would be, what the hell are those people doing that drives them off that way. No workforce of 280 people would be possessed of the same attitudes and the same motivations.

    But that’s the kind of stories people believe in South Dakota so that they can sit over coffee in the town cafes and condemn those horrible millennials. That’s why we have John Thune, Kristi Noem, and Mike Rounds for a Congressional delegation.

  7. Jenny 2015-05-05 22:23

    Something is seriously wrong with Trail King if what Yakley is saying is true. Does Trail King offer decent health insurance and annual cost of living raises? How about college tuition reimbursement? The boys have to have incentives to stay. Even uneducated South Dakotans want respect.

    There just has to be more to this story.

  8. Nick Nemec 2015-05-05 22:25

    Mr Yakley also complained about sick employees taking a sick day when they are sick rather than a vacation day. He sounds like a jerk, the employees at Trail King need a union to defend them against this guy and the crappy workplace conditions he makes them endure.

  9. grudznick 2015-05-05 23:06

    It is this weak work ethic of some of our citizens that will leave you with the buffalo void after I’m gone and the lazy whiners have left the state. I’m just sayin…

  10. Jana 2015-05-05 23:11

    Trail King had a huge layoff during the Bush Recession, and then turned around and begged the state for taxpayer money to rehire from their failed management.

    Entitlement much Mr. Yackley?

    One has to wonder how well this story will serve his recruiting efforts. Not sure that is the consequence he was intending.

  11. MD 2015-05-05 23:23

    They spend a lot of time placing millennials into a large group. Maybe they commit to this because they are simply left with those individuals without work ethic that have sifted through the ranks to end up in Mitchell, etc. These individuals get labeled as the “Millennials” by those than hire them rather than looking at the entire aggregate. Those of us that may have work ethic (I suppose it is subjective) are off finding bigger and better for ourselves rather than falling for the trap of remaining in a place that has nothing substantial to offer us.
    The individuals that do the educating and invest in those youth reap the rewards. The luckiest business, in my opinion, is the one in the town that does the educating that is WILLING TO INVEST in those students. Offer internships, guest lecture in classes, participate in youth development ventures, you will be able to skim those top performers off and bring them in. You can do this, even in a rural area if you are willing to invest a bit more.
    The other main factor is the worksite culture, if you leave a work environment that isn’t willing to understand those that they employ, the moral will struggle, production will decrease, people will walk, and people will talk. If he is having that much trouble recruiting, he likely has a worksite culture which isn’t conductive to productivity.
    During my gap year last year, I worked in two places in the transportation industry. The first job, I was told 20-35 hours a week and scheduled 40, given poor pay and no benefits, and stuck in a crappy work culture. Individuals showing up to work high, individuals with poor work ethic, mostly individuals with little hope. I felt exploited, so when I had my first opportunity, I left. (After having a few nights where I cleaned out my locker wondering if I was going to return in the morning).
    The second position, I worked for a small, but growing, company, I made 0.50 cents per hour more, but the employer was fair, open to compromise, and listened. Yes, I said a few bad words about him in anger, but I always boiled it down to he was fair. The worksite culture was of an upbeat small business, and customer service was 110% of our job. It reflected well, they had stable workers, little turnover, and returning customers. I felt appreciated.
    The same goes for another position I held in the medical field, I was willing to drive 70 miles from Sioux Falls to Iowa to work for an employer with an excellent worksite culture compared to the alternative in Sioux Falls (which will be out of business by the end of the month).

    When it boils down to it, call us spoiled, but we want to work in a worksite where we feel wanted. This could be found through a multitude of things like pay, benefits, location, worksite culture, or job satisfaction.
    We don’t feel like being exploited unless it is a means to an end. If you are truly spending $8,000 per employee just to see them walk, it is time to take another approach rather than run to the media. Could it be sending your employees to the Bahamas like Larson Manufacturing did last year? Maybe. But, I bet there are many other ways you can improve things without simply expecting our government to produce a supply glut of workers.

    I suppose, I am beginning to rant, but I wonder how his workforce would be different if the plant were (strongly) unionized? While unionized plants become easy targets for outsourcing, they tend to provide a stable workforce and individuals with a vested interest in keeping their job. While the trade off is high pay and the potential of strike, I bet they would have fewer problems with having to turn down contracts.

    I don’t think the generation known as the millennials is necessarily to blame. If one is trying to find the problem, should probably examine their own ways before they criticize others.

  12. Jana 2015-05-06 00:45

    Thinking about it a little more and it just strikes me as funny that Trail King CEO would talk about entitlement. For that matter, Governor Daugaard and Pat Costello are spending millions of tax payer money to recruit workers.

    At the same time they will champion good conservative economic principals like…oh I don’t know…the law of supply and demand.

    I think we have a bad case of corporate socialism going on in SD.

  13. Happy Camper 2015-05-06 08:35

    It’s not a believable statistic but the work ethic has changed. People don’t want to do actual physical work any more. The trades are screaming for help and why we pay so much for plumbing, electrical, etc. I recently met a 16 year old kid from China. Their educational system is about 3 years more advanced than ours. They just built a 57 story skyscraper in 19 days. They’ve started their own world bank. The balance of power is going to shift more quickly. The U.S. has so lost it’s edge. Can we blame it all on these lazy kids??? Yeah!

  14. Nick Nemec 2015-05-06 08:57

    I’m loath to blame the younger generation. Blaming youth for the problems of society is the tired excuse oldsters have been using for millennia.

    MD, I’m glad you brought up Larson Manufacturing. 100 miles down the road from Mitchell in Brookings, Larson is working with the same pool of potential employees, and apparently not having the retention problems Trail King is having. By all accounts Larson has many long term employees, and treats them well, the trip to the Bahamas is no doubt just one small example of how Larson treats their people. Trail King could learn something.

  15. Lynn 2015-05-06 09:17

    I’ve worked with this younger generation and hipsters or whatever group they belong to and have been in two work environments that can be used as examples for good and bad.

    Blaming it on a generation is wrong. The one thing I’ll give credit to these kids is that they are far better connected and can research thru various online resources who the good employers are and if they run into a bad workplace environment they have quicker escape plan, will warn others and land at a better job.

    Yakley fails to take responsibility for creating his own mess. Trail King is not only competing against other trailer manufacturers but against other employers out there and not just in Mitchell or in South Dakota either. When he let his work environment slide into a revolving door he will end up largely bottom of the barrel employees who come in high, drunk, late, never ending drama and the burden always falls on the good employees. The good employees will more than likely bolt. What are you left with? What are the true costs in terms of being competitive and maintaining quality with such a working environment?

  16. Jana 2015-05-06 09:23

    Mr. Yakley, look at it from a different perspective. What if you had a customer or vendor that treated you poorly, forced you into financial agreements that made it hard for you to make a margin and then bad mouthed you to everyone?

    Is that the kind of business arrangement you would accept?

  17. Happy Camper 2015-05-06 09:24

    These guys know what they’re talking about:

    The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have
    no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all
    restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes
    for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for girls, they are
    forward, immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress.

    The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for
    authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer
    rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
    chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their
    legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.

    I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
    frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
    words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
    respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise
    [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint.

  18. Ryan Janssen 2015-05-06 09:26

    I think Donald has touched on an important aspect of this discussion. The Millennials have figured out how things work in today’s workplace. They’re simply employing the same methods that corporations and businesses have been leveraging to keep wages down and gain an advantage in the marketplace.

    We’re being told that the market is tough, the recession changed everything and just be happy you have a job! It’s pretty obvious now that this works both ways. Pay Millennials a crap wage and treat them poorly and they’ll move on to greener pastures. Don’t keep up with cost of living increases and demand more hours for less pay? They’ll move onto greener pastures. It’s simple economics. If a company’s supplier raised prices and there was another supplier producing the same quality product for less what would they do?

    Lazy and entitled? Nah… They’re just flexing the supply and demand system and pursuing employment that more closely matches their priorities.

    Some of us have also figured out what Forbes and many other people looking to get ahead have already learned:

  19. Lynn 2015-05-06 09:29

    I have repeatedly worked with many younger generation, hipsters or whatever that Yakley slams that were top shelf/cream of the crop employees in environments where the employers demonstrated a high value for employees. Their reputation of being good employers are spread not only in social media but employer ranking sites and news media in winning awards. These companies are growing in market share, competitive, offer superb benefits, value paid employee time off with an emphasis on work/life balance, volunteering and good pay.

    It would be very difficult to see employees coming in stoned, drunk, dealing drugs on the side, not showing up on time or for work or being deadweight. Instead it is everyone bettering themselves, teamwork and an environment where future managers are groomed.

    A couple of good examples are REI Recreational Equipment Incorporated which is a Coop owned by it’s members started in Seattle in 1938

    QPB or Quality Bicycle Products based in Bloomington Mn which is the now largest bicycle shop supplier in the world.

  20. Jana 2015-05-06 09:36

    Happy Camper, I see what you did here in taking historical complaints about youth!

    I think it was Socrates that said ““The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

    “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
    frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
    words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
    respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise
    [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).

    Here’s a story you may enjoy.

  21. Jana 2015-05-06 09:43

    Mr. Yakley, please comment on the soaring productivity of the American worker and the stagnant wages companies like yours are paying the people who make the products that create your wealth.

  22. Jimmy James 2015-05-06 09:48

    So…this guy has had 279 divorces and complains that women “just aint what they used to be”?

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-06 09:49

    Jana, Happy Camper may be citing Socrates from ancient Greece, or he may just be citing crabby older folks complaining about the youth in the 1950s and 1960s:

    Either way, Happy wisely reminds us that the older generation’s perception of the younger generation’s inferiority (with the exception of their own children, who I’m sure graduated from Lake Woebegon schools) has always been with us.

  24. Lynn 2015-05-06 09:49

    Ryan exactly! It could be added that while growing up they saw their parents sacrifice, work hard for peanuts with hardly any benefits and vowed they would do what they could to minimize that it would happen to them.

  25. Happy Camper 2015-05-06 09:55

    Yes Jana better to find amusement when possible, but you’ll have to admit it’s troublesome when they gobble up all the dainties.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-06 09:56

    But David, Young did fact-check Yakley: “He’s not the only who thinks that. I’ve talked with CEOs across Sioux Falls’ business landscape and many of them, particularly in the manufacturing sector, agree.”

    There. Many unnamed CEOs agree with Yakley. What more confirmation do you need, O doubting David?

  27. Lynn 2015-05-06 10:04

    Yakley’s view is similar to many employers in South Dakota which supports SDGOP and their economic policies. Push for CAFOS, Push for immigrants legal or illegal. Plantation workers wanted! The lazy entitled workers are just liberals wanting a government handout! South Dakota or Mars you choose! Teachers complaining again?

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-06 10:10

    MD’s suggestion that Mitchell (and all of South Dakota?) could be caught in a labor-market eddy of substandard workers left behind by go-getters who have the ambition to seek better opportunities elsewhere is alarming. Could a society dysfunction in such a way that it repels its best and brightest and retains only slackers? If so, holy cow—after a generation or two, how does such a society of slackers fix itself?

  29. Nick Nemec 2015-05-06 10:26

    Interesting proposition Cory. I’ve read arguments that part of America’s success can be attributed to people being sick and tired of life in the countries of the old world, a feudal existence, little chance to move beyond the class you wee born to, being ruled by a privileged few lucky enough to be born in the right families. The cautious and fearful stayed behind while the ambitious, smart and brave struck out for America and made a vibrant, new, “can do” society. Maybe we are seeing some of that here in SD, treat people like crap long enough and eventually those with any kind of prospects will say “screw this”, pack up and leave.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-06 10:32

    Hold up on that nurse article, Jana. In its 2014 survey, WalletHub ranked South Dakota 3rd for nurses. One year later, the 2015 survey drops us to 41st? WalletHub’s methodology looks the same. Their ranking for our work environment is 15th in both surveys. Did something drastic change in South Dakota nurses pay, regulations, or work opportunities in the last year?

    If WalletHub’s numbers can withstand scrutiny, then we can turn to the money quote in that KELO article Jana shared on nurses: “Even after cost of living is factored in, South Dakota ranks 46th for annual pay.”

    Let’s keep chipping away at the fantasies that Yakley, Daugaard, and our other ostrich leaders offer. Their policies are leading us toward a dramatic market correction which will hurt, if not destroy, a lot of South Dakota businesses like Trail King.

  31. MD 2015-05-06 11:27

    Bear in mind, those individuals that came from other countries worked hard to give their children a better life. They slaved away so they could afford to help their kids go to college and find a career. Those children went to college, found their career, and now we are onto the 3rd and 4th generations that have not seen these hardships, at least among many from Europe.
    It is a cycle that is repeating itself today, visit John Morrel and you will see hundreds (thousands?) of New Americans that are working in positions in order to provide their children and families with a better life. Same thing goes for Hispanics and others that are currently immigrating to this country or coming as refugees.
    Yes, by the 3rd and 4th generation, you may have fewer people motivated by the desire to provide better for their kids. They have also realized by that time how exploited those before them had been, that is why they seek more.

    Speaking on the workforce migration issue, while many of the best move out of state, it is also just as common for people to want to settle in Sioux Falls since it has things to offer and more importantly, peers of the same standing. It is a hard force to counter, and oftentimes you are left with those that are uninterested in moving or tied down to a community. (Similar for teachers) It makes it much harder to recruit a person in Mitchell, pay them the same wage (or lower) as in Sioux Falls an expect them to stay. They need incentives, otherwise they are going to go live in the same city with their friends. This idea doesn’t bode well for businesses, but it is the competition they face.

    It is the same thing is happening in North Dakota. Fargo has been swelling for years, and it has even been trying to suck me in as of late. My girlfriend is turning down a $60,000/year job out of school, mostly since it would require her moving to a small town.

  32. Lynn 2015-05-06 12:41

    Just read the comments to the Yakley/Argus Sanford story.

  33. Jana 2015-05-06 13:12

    Sorry Lynn, missed your post!

  34. Lynn 2015-05-06 13:14

    Hey Jana, It’s ok. CEOs like Yakley need to be sacked along with our elected representatives here in SD that enable him with our tax dollars.

  35. PNR 2015-05-06 14:06

    There are work ethic issues, but if you’re losing 279 out of 280 to such issues, then maybe there’s a problem with your employee screening process and what you’re willing to pay in order to motivate a better work ethic. Kind of like teaching – if one or two students fail a test, it’s probably the students. If 29 out of 30 fail the test, it’s probably the teacher.

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-06 16:00

    Lynn, Jana, fascinating article, with this statement from a former employee backing up what PNR and others have said about management’s responsibility for such a high turnover rate:

    In an email, former employee Jeff Prader said he left Trail King in 2014 after having started at the Fargo plant in 2010. He insisted that the work environment changed after Yakley became the company president in 2011.

    Prader referenced unspecified company policy changes that were unfair to older workers. He criticized what he called unreasonable safety policies, like wearing gloves at all times, that made doing work unduly difficult.

    “This is ridiculous to have a generation blamed for being lazy or bad parenting because you make a place so miserable to work,” Prader wrote. “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” [Steve Young, “Ex-Employee: CEO Made Trail King ‘Miserable to Work’,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.06].

    Yakley says Prader is not speaking the truth and asserts that nameless superintendents and university presidents agree with him that our least skilled workers are lazy bums.

  37. owen 2015-05-06 18:05

    Cory this is where Steve Young has to really crack down and ask Yackley for some names or Young shouldn’t print it.
    We have to remember that Yackley is a right winger who does what most right wingers do. Make statements with absolutely no facts behind them.
    I’ll bet Prader is closer to the truth then Yackley.

  38. owen 2015-05-06 18:38

    Yackley stepped in it again today.

    He talks about the white-collar workers from SDSU, USD and Dakota State that work at Trail King and they’re “rock stars.” Of course they are. They were lucky enough to grow up in good homes. I’m not saying rich homes, but good parents or a good single parent.
    What about those same age kids who grew up in a terrible. Maybe they were abused or had parents that used drugs. Maybe they were homeless or whatever.
    I’m sure Yackley is terrible to work for because he lacks compassion. He’s got his so screw anybody else.

  39. Jana 2015-05-06 18:55

    Funny that not one economic development official (and Yakley) bring up low wages as a barrier to hiring a strong workforce.

    Did they all take a solemn oath? Are the quality of businesses and their products so bad that they can’t pay a living wage competitive in the regional marketplace. Or are they just dicks who want even more for themselves and screw the working class.

    Steve Young says he is going to be out and about tomorrow, for the love of God, someone tell him that wages matter. To teachers, production workers, welders, bank tellers, etc. etc. earning a living, saving for the future and a tiny little fun matter.

  40. Les 2015-05-06 19:07

    The Poppers predicted nothing, Jon. They wrote what they saw happening.

    I don’t believe problems with workforce if you have them are millennial, as much as a general across the board change in worker attitude, but not 99.6% by any means. One in four applicants are a no show for the interview in my biz so I’d say poor performance employees have to be something over 25%.

    To say there is no problem gives no consideration to those with substance abuse legal or not and mental health issues.

  41. mike from iowa 2015-05-06 19:18

    Right off the top of my head,I’m gonna guess Yackley is a wingnut and prolly donates mucho dinero to wingnut causes.

  42. happy camper 2015-05-07 18:56

    If you want to know the truth, I was citing Steve Douglas from My Three Sons who was quoting Socrates to Uncle Ernie. Uncle Ernie was the cranky old guy who felt kids today …

  43. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-07 19:15

    My Three Sons?! Ha ha!

  44. Jana 2015-05-07 19:16

    Throw Back Thursday hits the Dakota Free Press!

    Nice job Happy Camper!

  45. Clinton Brown 2015-06-02 13:39

    Actually Manpower had a better than 50% retention of skilled trades stay at Trailking over a year period.

  46. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-02 14:23

    May I ask which year period is that, Clinton? Are the “skilled trades” workers you are talking about separate from the 280 production workers out of whom Yakley says he lost 279 last year?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.