A minimum wage job is good training for young people writes Brian Brenberg, assistant professor at The King’s College in a recent CNBC .com article. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/101340105 ) It’s where student workers like those in his freshman economics class learn to show up on time, take instruction and follow rules, he says. Some young employees I see in retail stores appear to enjoy their work, despite the perceived mundane nature of the job. Others clearly would rather be almost anywhere else than taking my order or bagging my groceries.
Of course, adult breadwinners also work retail jobs and often despair at getting stuck at the bottom while people at the top prosper. However, two points seem seldom discussed:
(1) People who own and manage business depend on their employees to help them make a profit. A positive, productive team can be a source of competitive advantage – especially at the customer contact level;
(2) Nobody deserves an inflated minimum wage just for showing up, whether students or adults.
They DO, however, deserve a wage that reflects performance and potential – if they’re worth hiring at all. Some are worth $7.25, others $8.81, said to be the average WalMart wage, while President Obama has called for $10.10 in his State of the Union address (comparable to what Costco pays in the Washington, D.C. area). Some employees even may be worth the $15.00 activists are demanding of WalMart.
The argument is made by Professor Brenberg that businesses simply will leave open positions unfilled if they’re required to pay an appreciably higher minimum wage. Unenlightened businesses likely will respond that way. However, if they want to attract, value and retain high-performance employees, employers should be willing (eager!) to pay them a wage that reflects their true value -- a performance wage, without government intervention.
Brenberg concludes his article by writing that, given a higher minimum wage, “it will be harder for students like mine to land that first job and acquire those skills that lead to upward mobility.” That may be true if government forces the issue. But consider this, professor: Poor performing students in your classroom get Fs. Top performers get As. Most F students eventually weed themselves out, while most top performers continue being top performers. Similarly, poor workers either weed themselves out or get stuck in the low wage trap. Others will grab the brass ring and perform so well they could be earning $15 in short order. And their employer will be glad to pay it.
Perform more, get more. It works on Wall Street, so why not on Main Street?
Takeaway: The people who work for you are a potential source of competitive advantage. Pay high performance people high performance pay. And let them set the example for others.