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  • Writer's pictureMark Olivito

The Minimum Wage Debate: Classic Smokescreen

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Smokescreens are great tools to for creating a distraction. They conjure up old school cartoon images from the early ’80’s where the bad guy sets one off, blurs the vision of the good guy while bad guy is 90 degrees to the right, robbing the good guy blind.

Businesses have smokescreens all around them, especially in the political and regulatory area. I witnessed it in TN for years as liquor stores fought tooth and nail to prevent grocery stores from getting liquor licenses in fear of competition. Wasted energy vs. protecting their assets.

The Minimum wage debate is always a hot button political issue, with passionate arguments from smart people on both sides of the issue. People are usually on 1 of 2 sides of the argument:

  1. Raise it! How can you possibly live on it? Businesses will raise prices to cover it!

  2. Don’t raise it! It will cost jobs, and therefore hurt the people you are trying to protect!

Or multiple other issues.

At the risk of minimizing the importance of the minimum wage debate, how about employers view it through a different, more proactive lense?

What could that be?

Whether employees are making minimum wage (current or proposed), isn’t a better quality of life for those people making that low wage a function of their skills and marketability in the market place? Said differently, if labor were a product (and it essentially is) and that product had value added to it, isn’t it reasonable to think that the price of that product would increase over time and the people buying it would happily pay for it?

Of course it is.

So the different lense for employers is not to engage in a debate (keeping minimum wage down for example) that is largely out of their control, but to focus on something that will be largely WITHIN their control: The VALUE of those employees. Adding to it. Significantly. And reaping the long term benefits.

Sounds like “training” doesn’t it? Call it INVESTMENT.

  • Job rotation/Cross training – You have stock people at the retail shop? Great, get them on the cash register. Put them on the sales floor. Let them master every position of the operation.

  • Invest in some type of training: Communication skills? Technical skills? Start small and see if there’s a change. Integrate that training into the job.

  • Create a buddy system: Take the same employees and let them mentor new one’s on the training, on-boarding and mastery of different areas. Nobody is better suited to show how to do a job than the people that do it every day.

  • Give them opportunities to communicate to senior leaders. Ask their opinion of what can be improved. Listen. Act if appropriate.

If these simple things are done by employers, would these employees, NOT be in a much better position in the labor marketplace? Wouldn’t the businesses have a much more capable and motivated workforce?

Smokescreens make for great dinner conversation. They serve a purpose. But in business, focusing on what you CAN control vs. what you can’t is usually the right course of action.

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