You get what you pay for…
Note: Of course it is always better to have people who want to work for the sak of the cause, but I already covered that here.
Everyone is familiar with this adage and yet they often try to ignore it. Employers wish they could ignore it and those that try usually end up paying in other more painful ways than simple currency. This even applies to the modern military. You get what you pay for and if you don’t want to pay top dollar you can’t get a top notch product consistently. Especially over the long term.
This is not confined to the military...A local example is our “help desk” here at my undisclosed work location. The help desk has to stay open 24x7 and must deal with customers who are irritated, confused, and frequently incompetent to even diagnose their problem.
Consequently it is a frustrating position that requires frequent shift work on a non-stop rotation. Further it is nice to have people with the technical chops necessary to overcome our customer’s own ignorance. This combo costs serious cash and here is why:
1. There are lots of jobs for people with these technical skills. More jobs than people actually. High demand equals good pay.
2. Most of those jobs are not shift work. My own job does have shift work but it the exception and not the rule.
3. Many of these jobs require little or no interaction with customers or only with customers who have similar skillsets. This makes these jobs less frustrating.
4. My career field has a high bar to entry in terms of a learning curve but once you are over the initial hill there are well defined and relatively easy paths to higher qualifications. This means that there is a huge amount of upward mobility. This when coupled with high pay = early retirement which keeps demand high.
The synergy of these factors means that we would have to pay a fully qualified help desk employee a very large sum of money in order to keep them from jumping ship to another less demanding job. Frankly keeping the level of employee that the contract actually stipulates would probably cost somewhere between $70,000-$90,000 per year per employee and even then it is unlikely that many employees would stay beyond a year or so of shift work.
The alternate approach is to hire unqualified employees and simply not fulfill much “help” at the help desk. This is what we roll with because hiring someone with virtually no skills at wages just a bit above Wal-Mart or McDonalds is a great way to ensure low turnover rates. The company then covers their lack of skill by hiring a fewer but more technical people to work on problems during the daytime. Further they have one of us cover the night shift just to handle anything really serious.
The penalty is that most of our customers hate us and consider our after hours service to be “shitty” when they are feeling generous. Fortunately we are a government monopoly so it doesn’t make any difference how upset our customers are. They can’t go elsewhere.
Our help desk operators are aware of their lack of “chops” but really aren’t inclined to do much about it. Most were recruited from service jobs (like myself) and are happy to have a desk job earning decent money. They tend not to progress in terms of schooling or knowledge and many of them have been working the help desk for years without learning a damn thing about the field. Not self starters, but you get what you pay for. This tendency towards not learning extends to soldiers.
The military has a similar problem. They want technically skilled soldiers but they have a problem getting them and keeping them because:
1. People may shoot at you during the course of your work.
2. You work longer hours than most civilians but you don’t get paid any extra to do so.
3. You can go to jail for being late to work.
4. You frequently are forced to leave your family for long periods of time.
When you have these sorts of major job negatives you are unlikely to keep top-notch folks for long unless you are really slinging some huge amounts of cash around. In jobs where this is made painfully obvious like aviation the military makes the employees officers and offers large incentive pays to pilots since putting incompetents in the cockpit ends with plane and helicopter crashes. These are obvious and high profile results.
By contrast, putting incompetents into an intelligence job just ends in bad intel that is largely invisible and incomprehensible to the public. Same goes for most support jobs in the military. They take the help desk approach because the alternative is hugely expensive.
So the next time someone bitches about the bad intelligence that led us into Iraq or some other military problem just tell them that they got the quality that they paid for.