Sunday, November 27, 2005

Work Ethic and the Five Pound Butterfly

I have had many conversations with small business owners like myself that center around the basic fact that good people are hard to find. My take on this is that if I can find a person that has a good work ethic and a positive attitude that I can and will take care of the rest. I sincerely believe that if you find someone with successful sales experience in pharmaceuticals, and if that person is a hard, honest worker that you can easily train that person to sell, say, locomotive parts. In my opinion, the training is secondary, the person is primary. Sales is sales. What they are selling isn't the issue.

The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16 has an interesting article called the Five Pound Butterfly (via Photon Courier). A couple of the money quotes:

A company that makes automobile bumper parts was looking for a shift supervisor at a plant in Pennsylvania. They eliminated all candidates who didn't have a BS degree, even though many had relevant experience.
A college degree, in my opinion, is nice, but not relevant here. If I were the person hiring for this job the degree is trumped by experience in a factory environment - any factory environment that has to do with heavy manufacturing.

And this is completely ridiculous:

Wabtec, which makes components for railcars and buses, needed a mechanical engineer. They wanted a BS and appropriate work experience; they also wanted experience with a computer-aided design system Pro/Engineer. And they would only consider candidates who had experience with Pro/Engineer Wildfire, not an earlier version of the software which was called 2000i. "The basic difference between Wildfire and 2000i is not that significant," says Mike Sylvester, VP at the recruiting firm that handled the search. "I say smart people can learn sister applications, but there is a reluctance among hiring managers to see that. If they use a SAP database system, they won't even look at someone with experience with a PeopleSoft system. There is a major fear of having to bring someone up a learning curve. They want them to hit the ground running."
So you have to train the person a bit. There is no job whatsoever that has seamless integration. Cultures between companies differ as well as operating systems, aggressiveness and personalities.

Mike Sylvester says that there's a lot of this sort of thing going on. He was asked to find an engineer to oversee a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system at a hospital. "A pump is a pump and a duct is a duct, but they wouldn't even look at candidates who had HVAC experience in a mill instead of a hospital," he says.The WSJ article blames much of the claimed "shortage" of engineers on such overly-specific hiring requirements. "Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn't mean there is a shortage of butterflies," says Richard Tax of the American Engineering Association.
That is right on. Being in the HVAC business, I can personally attest that that 50 horse pump in the mill operates in the same exact way as the 50 horse pump in the hospital, and is more than likely the SAME EXACT pump. Guys who can do a good job fixing these big boys quickly and efficiently usually are very secure in their jobs. There really aren't many of these folks unemployed unless they are self destructive types, such as alcoholics or drug addicts.

I find the WSJ article interesting because I am a small business owner and find the corporate world, at times, baffling. Well respected, gigantic companies would actually overlook a candidate such as the mill engineer for the hospital job simply because he doesn't work in a hospital? Really? Even a little research by the person hiring for that job would show that the climate control systems are, in fact, quite similar between the mill and the hospital. So why is that person doing the hiring for this job? Politics? Looks like more wasted money for the shareholders in my eyes.

To me, honesty and a good work ethic are the two most important things when hiring people. In today's world, good people are, in fact, hard to find.


Elliott said...

I actually saw one of these five pound butterfly ads from a company. My response to the HR people was, "If the messiah is out there then they have better things to do than work for your company."

Dan from Madison said...

HA! Outstanding response.