Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Red Herring Pt. II

[Note: This is the second part in what will be a three part post. You can read part I here]

Worried that I might become what I dislike, this post is a long time coming. Anyone can bitch, but to provide solutions takes courage and the heart to stand up to criticism. I have written many posts explaining why I oppose raising the minimum wage, however today I will loosely outline a better solution for those people making minimum wage than a meaningless $2 an hour raise.

Politicians are always campaigning. Even when they are governing, they are campaigning. The minimum wage issue as become so contorted, so twisted that the press would have you believe that if you didn't support raising the minimum wage then you must be cruel and soulless. I contend it's those that proclaim a false hope that mere two dollar raise is going to have on someone's life are the heartless ones. Minimum wage by definition is applied to those employees that are unskilled and of an entry level type position. Raising the pay floor doesn't make this indisputable fact disappear. Raising the minimum wage will also not increase the buying power of the minimum wage earner's paycheck, as the cost of all goods and service will go up. Of this I can assure you, as raising the minimum wage is not free money that politicians found laying on the floor.

So what's the solution? Well to start with you don't help someone by raising the minimum wage, you help them by getting them out of a minimum wage job. Training and teaching them job skills. And I am not talking about college either, because not everyone is cut out for higher education. Having spent 13 years working around people making minimum wage, I have learned that those same employees tend to fail at each job they hold for the same reasons. They doom their chances of success by making the same mistakes over and over again, thus forcing them to take another job making the same low pay and cycle repeats itself. Too many times I have seen the dangled hope of a college education as some sort of cure-all to better a life, only to see them enroll just to drop out. It's not to say these people are stupid or lack abilities, it's just that their abilities lie outside the pages of a book or sitting through a lecture. The key is to unlock those abilities and find a vocation where they can use them.

About seven years ago I became the area district manager for the corporate owned Domino's Pizza stores in Des Moines [a few years before I decided I was making too money and that I should open my own business]. Coming into the new position I felt the greatest hurdle facing our stores was the lack of employees as we were grossly understaffed. The only store remotely close to having the proper staffing leveling was the one I just left to accept the promotion. Unfortunately [or fortunately, depending on your point of view] the unemployment rate in Des Moines has always been fairly low so the employee pool was/is extremely shallow. I started thinking that if I couldn't get the perspective employees to walk into the stores and apply, I would simply go out and bring the application to them. I teamed with a fellow Domino's employee named Mark Watkins, who worked at the Domino's world headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mark was in a division called "Urban Initiatives," a branch of Domino's specifically created to targeting and help inner cities around the nation. This department was designed as a corporate outreach to assist people, not to sell them pizzas.

I sat down with Mark and explained I needed more employees. To be blunt, I said I know where a large concentration of unemployed people are...the inner city. However, we both realized that time and time again when you pull prospective employees for those areas they tend to not work out, so we started to brainstorm why. Over the course of about six months we bounced around simple ideas or quick fixes, if you will, but eventually we agreed to try something bigger. Bigger than just staffing a Domino's Pizza store. We took the employment model pioneered by Strive and decided to create our own.

Our program was designed to help eliminate obstacles preventing those people either unemployed or stuck in a minimum wage job from bettering their lives. What we found was that those people making minimum wage or who were habitually unemployed tended to believe that they were owed a job, but expected to give nothing in return. We took to dispelling this belief and crafted a three day, in-your-face approach to training these people how to get a job and how to keep it.

We partnered with Creative Visions an inner city center designed to provide help those in need. We taught four hour classes over the course of the three. Day one dealt with removing the notion that someone "owes" you something. What employers are looking for in an employee. That work is work and it will suck sometimes, but other times it will be rewarding. How to present yourself or sell yourself and your skills. And finally, having the right attitude.

By day two we would go from starting class sizes of 30+ down to about 10 or 15. The dropout rate was high and expected, but it left us with those people really intent on changing their lives. Day two was always the hardest as it dealt with the interview process. At first we would let them fail without any guidance. We placed them in the middle of the rest of the class; surrounded and alone with eyes of everyone else on them. Then after meticulously tearing down their conduct, attitude, choice of words, eye contact, and appearance we would start reconstructing them. Easily the most gratifying day of three we would teach. You started to understand that these people were failing in their jobs before they were even hired. They were setting impressions that they would have to fight everyday they worked whether true or not.

The final day of classes dealt with keeping a job once they were hired. We called them workforce issues. Ethics, sexual harassment, discrimination, diversity and teamwork. The idea wasn't just get them a job, but to set them up to succeed rather than fail. Arm them with some knowledge of what type of situations to expect in the workplace. Help them understand what is appropriate and what is not. Keep in mind this originally started as a hiring tool for Domino's, however by the end we removed that goal. We would welcome interviews, but made it clear they weren't automatically hired.

So what was the outcome of the program? I wish I could say we helped hundreds of people, but sadly this was not the case. You must realize [and I am looking directly at the dreamy eyed liberals] that you can't save everyone. No amount of money or government assistance can replace the need for them to want a better life. The government can't do it and you and I can't do for them either. You start by helping those that want help and rest will follow eventually. We hired many of the students we taught and by the time I left the Des Moines stores they were still working for the company. What that program showed me was the promise and the desire to succeed that dwells inside of every person. There is great wisdom in the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Politicians would have you believe that raising the minimum wage will provide a new life for these people. Don't believe it. Mark my words, raising the minimum wage won't help anyone better their lives. At least not without further job skill training. However two and fours years from now the Democratic leadership will claim a certain level of success. More hallow words, that truly show how much politics is about getting power and keeping power instead of truly helping people.

I support welfare and government assistance when helps provide a bridge to a better economic station in life. Reallocate resources from within the current welfare system and provide organizations like Strive with the resources to expand their programs. Provide incentives to businesses like Domino's for attempting to think outside the box. The government must learn to work in partnership with private businesses, instead of against them. Businesses, despite the beliefs of smiley-glad-hand-pick-pocket politicians, are not an endless well of money that can be dipped into every time they need to keep a campaign promise or a new government program.

I think back to why I was once a Democrat and I recall the reasons admired Presidents like FDR and JFK. They supported public programs designed to help people, but at the same required a certain level of commitment back to the government. Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Work Administration and the Works Progress Administration were all forms of welfare, but each one required actual work on the part of the individual receiving the help. Modern day Democrats have perverted President Kennedy's famous quote imploring Americans to become more active citizens into a more selfish version: "ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you."

It's time to return to the core values and belief that you must earn what you receive in life, rather than believing you are owed everything you receive.

[Tomorrow I will end this long winded 3 part post with a few final thoughts and shots]

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