Strong Work Ethic Sadly Lacking in Region

November 06, 2005

Many employers maintain that the most valuable thing a prospective worker can have on his resume is not his education, as important as that is, but a proven history of productive work. Employers will frequently take a chance on someone lacking specific job skills but who has positive references from a previous employer and possesses a good attitude.

The reason is no mystery: it's far easier to train someone than imbue them with a good work ethic. As a story in today's edition relates, developing such a highly motivated, strong-work-ethic labor force is key to this region's economic progress. Sad to say, however, many seeking work in this region lack such skills.

In 2003, Dr. Karen Tarnoff, assistant professor of management at ETSU, made an extensive study of regional employers' needs, ranging from technical expertise to dependability and commitment. The massive, 18-month study surveyed 118 businesses employing 40,795 workers in Carter, Greene, Johnson, Washington, Sullivan and Unicoi counties. The researcher found that while Tri-Cities employers were concerned about the lack of technical proficiencies, their greatest concerns were about poor work habits in general.

Professor Tarnoff concluded that the most urgent and widespread need cited by employers was finding those individuals with the right personal characteristics: work ethic, dependability, commitment and loyalty. Tarnoff's study is compelling evidence of something too often neglected by business schools and employees fixated on finding the latest hot job. Sure, skills are important. But more than anything else, employers are looking for workers who display characteristics that seem, increasingly, in short supply.

Nothing beats a positive attitude, yet nothing is more difficult to qualify. A positive work ethic and those who are team players who mesh smoothly with the rest of a group can make the difference between a so-so employee and a star employee. Reliability and dependability are also key components.

Employers want to know that an employee will show up on time for work as scheduled. Also high on the list is being able to trust that the employee will perform the duties to the best of his or her ability, in a timely manner. Similarly, employers appreciate those who demonstrate a sense of loyalty to the organization and that the employee will do whatever he or she possibly can to help the company grow and be successful.

Kenneth Gray, author of "Getting Real: Helping Teens Find Their Future," notes that many of today's young people leave high school without any specific career plans or aspirations, leaving them dangerously adrift. He recommends that teens should begin to identify and narrow their career interests by the 10th grade.

By the 12th grade, Gray says, teens should have engaged in activities to verify these choices and used these choices to make post-high school choices. Generally speaking, it's best to seek out those careers we like and have a natural aptitude for. If nothing else, it makes getting up each morning to go to work that much easier. School isn't simply the sum of the subjects we're taught, but a pipeline that leads to adult life and a productive career. Exploring our options and making informed choices are critical parts of that process.

Copyright 2005 Kingsport Times-News.

The above was based on the Tarnoff report, which this website obtained a copy of. The conclusions on the workforce are dead wrong.

It's not the workers, but the wages

Printed Kingsport Times-News May 3, 2004

I wish to express my concern about the report "The Skills Gap in Our Region," a copy of which I obtained from Dr. Tarnoff. The sponsor of the research is Eastman Chemical and some biased government agencies protecting their jobs. Of 2,000 surveys, they got only 118 responses or three percent.

Of 40,795 employees mentioned, almost 20 percent are from Eastman, and well over half are in 24 firms. Page 31 points out why these companies have the employee problems they whine about.

While the survey did inquire about using abusive temp agencies, they failed to factor in subcontractors, many operating as temp agencies mixing in lower pay, no benefit employees off the company books. This often creates low worker morale and management problems.

When asked about pay issues, they answered "going rate," which here is among the lowest in the nation and why ING Investments ranks the Tri-Cities as one of the worst places to earn a living.

The report indicates the available qualified labor pool is limited by the refusal of firms to pay better wages. They refuse to even train anyone as the Times-News correctly pointed out.

The report reveals there's no real skills gap or labor shortage, but a severe wage gap. They want better-trained, minimum wage workers that won't relocate.

Most skills and vocational training being taught in local colleges are a waste of time. I commend County Commissioner Jack Sitgreaves for pointing out what happens to our college graduates.

Before we trash our workforce, let's get the facts. It's time to consider the abusive labor tactics and mismanagement at local businesses that no amount of cheap labor and more useless education will ever fix.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.

Quoting a Sullivan County official, he confirmed again what most in power here will not address: "I was in no way casting dispersions on the level of education at ETSU. When I said that "we have ETSU students flipping burgers," I was pointing out that we do not have the level of jobs in this area to sustain the number of graduates from our local colleges. Therefore, they are forced to either leave the area or take what jobs are available to them, which in most cases are in the service area," The trouble is there are no decent jobs even in trades as the Tarnoff report revealed. See:

Typical are these letters in the Kingsport Times-News March 24, 2006,

Couldn't get a job in Tri-Cities

As a student in the Hawkins County school system, I listened to the engineers from Eastman talk about the opportunities available to those with the right education. I graduated as the valedictorian of my high school class with honors and went on to graduate from Tennessee Tech University with bachelor's degrees in both chemical engineering and chemistry. Upon graduation, I had a 3.4 GPA and almost two years of co-op experience in the chemical industry.

So, in 2004/2005 when I was seeking employment back home, I felt good about my chances. Eastman, BAE, and NFS all had entry-level openings. To my surprise, I was not offered a single interview. How can a company know about your work ethic, skills, and drive if they won't even give you a chance?

Several of my friends from college had been trying to come back home to start their careers, but most faced the same fate. For several years before my graduation, none of the local companies came to Tech's campus to recruit any of the homegrown talent that was there. I understand that Eastman is finally going back there to recruit, but that is too little, too late for so many of us. What kind of example does that set for the next generation?

If someone wanted to pursue an engineering or science degree and work in the area, why would they follow that path when they know of so many who did and were denied their dreams?

In spite of it all, I am very blessed. In my current job, I get to work on the rocket motors for the current and future space exploration vehicles. It's just a shame I had to go 2,000 miles from home to find a company that appreciates my knowledge and skills.

Heather Rhoton, Ogden, Utah

Area's brain trust outsourced

March 28, 2006

After reading all of the articles stating there is such a need for educated individuals to fill the job market in Eastern Tennessee, I too, had to laugh. After graduating from East Tennessee State University with a high grade point average, spending one year co-oping at Eastman Chemical Company and specializing in the field that I am now enjoying great success in, I had to move 650 miles away to North Carolina to find employment.

Most of the people I graduated with that went on to college have also moved out of state to find decent paying jobs in their field of study. The problem was and still is that those in power to employ look to out-of-state universities instead of in-state, thinking that those institutions are teaching better skill sets. The other problem is for decades, the companies promoted from within individuals without the education, skill level, or competencies necessary for certain jobs just because the individual had seniority. I saw this firsthand when I applied time and time again for positions at a major manufacturing company.

Now they are reaping the benefits of what was sown for so many years. Like the other person in Utah, I am now a happy North Carolinian working for a community college teaching young people. It is a shame that the brain trust of the area has been outsourced to other states that now enjoy educated and skilled workers.

Deborah S. Clark Greenville, N.C.

The editorials below are based on the discredited Tarnoff Report that I address below. The terrible labor conditions in this region (low pay and class warfare) force most of our college graduates to flee the region in droves. Heather and Deborah are just a small sample of what goes on here.

Quoting a Sullivan County official, he confirmed again what most in power here will not address: "I was in no way casting dispersions on the level of education at ETSU. When I said that "we have ETSU students flipping burgers," I was pointing out that we do not have the level of jobs in this area to sustain the number of graduates from our local colleges. Therefore, they are forced to either leave the area or take what jobs are available to them, which in most cases are in the service area," The trouble is there are no decent jobs even in trades as the Tarnoff report revealed. See:

Poor work ethic not the real issue

Printed Kingsport Times-News April 9, 2006

I commend Heather Rhoton (3/24) and Deborah Clark (3/28) as examples of the many qualified workers we have in Tri-Cities, yet their fate is all too common. I also laughed at the editorial about the need for high-tech workers. I was furious with the misguided editorial "Strong Work Ethic Sadly Lacking in Region" (Nov. 6). What is wrong with this picture? Is that why Heather and Deborah had to flee Tri-Cities? Why is our lazy, shiftless workforce highly sought elsewhere? Eastman CEO Ferguson has whined about high-tech workers since he got here, yet he isn't hiring. I checked, and there are no jobs listed for Kingsport, but it did announce a new plant in China.

As the Tarnoff report clearly stated, local business refuses to pay better wages to get the people they need. CEO Ferguson has a big problem paying less money and benefits in a social culture that holds education and achievement in contempt. As I was informed by one local business, college graduates don't mix into the local workforce, so "we don't hire people with college." The problem isn't work ethic or education, it's a cultural problem of social apartheid combined with an abusive, low-wage employment system that's driven thousands of qualified people to leave the area.

This leaves too many unqualified people not only illiterate, but often into drug and alcohol abuse. Their children are often unmotivated as well. Unless local culture changes, let's just ship Eastman Chemical to China and get it over with.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.