Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
It was interesting to read a story in the Wall Street Journal the other day about how there were 650,000 retail jobs open last August … which, by any measure, is an awful lot of jobs. When you add in the restaurant business and warehouse jobs related to retail, the number is even higher.
At the same time, the economy continues to improve - we’ve had a half-dozen years of slow, relatively steady strengthening, and unemployment is just north of four percent. Wages, of course, are stagnant, and I’m not sure what it is going to take for them to improve. I know there’s a lot of talk about tax cuts creating corporate wealth that will trickle down, but I think the core weakness in that argument is that senior executives generally are rewarded for driving down labor costs and creating investor dividends - not the other way around.
Until that changes … or at least until there is investor recognition that a rewarded and invested employee class can lead to even greater dividends in the long run … I’m not sure wage stagnation ever will end.
The thing is, there are all those unfilled jobs. The Journal piece notes that some retailers are willing to look past traditional red flags - like drug tests and lack of experience - in order to hire folks.
I think that’s probably a good thing. But I also continue to believe that employers are going to have to define new metrics if they’re going to deal successfully with the labor shortage.
I grew up working in retail - two clothing stores and one winery tasting room - as a way of paying my way through high school and college, and then to supplement a meager reporter’s salary when I was starting out. And one thing I remember about all those jobs is that my bosses - to varying degrees and using different strategies - created an atmosphere in which I wasn’t just paid for my time and efforts, but also felt invested in the success of the business. To be honest, I think that some of this came from my personality and a work ethic driven into me by my parents. But I also think it is because my employers realized that an invested employee maximized their investments in the business.
This has to work for both non-union and union businesses, by the way. For the latter, I think it means being willing to work together as partners, not opponents.
None of this will be easy. Much of this will require some fundamental re-thinking of how businesses relate to employees, and whether they see them as an investment and an asset, rather than a cost to be lowered at, well, at any cost.
But so much of retail is changing these days, there’s no reason to think that this can’t change, too.
That’s what’s on my mind this morning and, as always, I’d like to hear what’s on your mind.
- KC's View: