Staffing Levels

hammer nail

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the aphorism that “to the person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I knew someone who had to read “Boom, Bust & Echo,” the book by demographer David Foot and journalist Daniel Stoffman, in college. After doing so, they related a factoid — no matter how tenuous — to the thesis of the book every chance they got.

Since I feel like I do that a lot too, I try not to be unkind about it. That said, the book’s core — that demographics allow us to forecast future trends — has at least some bearing on a problem that is becoming apparent in lots of industries and sectors: low staffing.

Every business I work with right now is dealing with the fallout from two years of COVID. Not every one of them cut their staffing during that period, but most did.

We started to see this late last year/early this year. And at one point there was some equilibrium. One general manager told me that they dealt with the combination of lowered revenue and short staffing by doing internal transfers. “Most of our locations only have enough business right now for two happy salespeople and one unhappy one, so only having two salespeople per locations nets out okay.”

Now, as we emerge from that period into what looks — at least for now — like a return to normalcy, these same businesses are struggling to acquire new staff; and not just good staff, but anyone at all.

Everyone is in the same boat, but it’s felt more keenly by smaller dealers. During COVID, the one-door mom-and-pop dealers, usually in small towns, downsized until only family members were working there. Fast forward to now, and it’s still just family members working there, all of whom tell me that working longer to cover opening hours has gotten beyond tiresome.

At the same time, the dynamics of hiring have shifted. Over dinner the other week, another general manager I work with described how the interview process has changed. “We’re not interviewing them anymore, they’re interviewing us.” And he elaborated, “I have to pitch to them hard on why they would want to work here.”

And even when what’s on offer is a sweet deal, it’s still hard to find someone. One business owner I met with (again over dinner, I have to make up lost time for barely using my expense account for two years!) told me about a friend of his on the fleet side who landed a contract to install cameras in cars for the city police department. He’s offering installers $67/hour and can’t find anyone.

“$130K a year to drill holes from 8 to 4, with no real stress?” I asked “I have to admit I find that tempting.”

“ME TOO!” he exclaimed “Being the boss is a drag most of the time.”

On a related note, I was trying to wrangle an installer for a small project for a work colleague, and I literally had to go through my entire contact list to find one who could make time. All of them were overworked and understaffed. One longtime dealer said to me “I’d do it, Lee. But I have 300 work orders on my desk, and it’s just me and two techs who have to get these done.”

I’ll freely admit that I have no solutions, only observations. And it’s my observation that everyone I know, regardless of the vertical or channel they’re in is dealing with the same thing — even the guy whose company did my landscaping and built my deck told me the same thing. So take heart in knowing that you’re not the only one with this problem.