Hiring an Entry-Level Shop Worker

Woodshop owners share tips and stories about hiring helpers. March 25, 2008

I am looking to hire an apprentice. Where is the best place to find someone - local college, high school? I do not want to go through 5 guys to find the right one. When I started in the trade my high school teacher got me my first cabinet shop job. Not sure if I want someone that young, though. I am really busy and maybe a journeyman would be the way to go for now?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
I've had good luck with the local trade high school. Be aware that you will have to teach everything, though. Our local trade school is almost useless in teaching these kids much of anything. The benefit in going there is that you have a chance of getting a young person interested in the field. Require an A/B student and you'll have a chance of finding a good one.

From contributor W:
After 14 years and hiring hundreds of entry level people, and learning a phenomenal amount about the hiring process, I have come to the conclusion that hiring entry level people is still a crap shoot. You can weigh the process in your favor, though...

Hire slow, fire fast. If there is a problem that can't be taken care of with a couple of quick conversations, let them go and move on. Keeping someone for 2 or 6 years after we should have let them go is a disaster that most employers have committed, and regretted.

Test for basic skills such as tape measure and math. You can't afford to do remedial training.

It helps if they seem at ease and can communicate well. Good communication is the lubricant of human relations.

Do a formal, written performance review at 30 and 85 days (90 day probationary period), 6 months, and annually thereafter. The feedback they get, both good and bad, is essential for them to progress rapidly in their job; plus, the opportunity for frequent financial recognitions early on keeps them in a positive frame of mind.

Be Firm, Fair, and Friendly.

From contributor S:
Have you ever hired anyone before? I am afraid that if you haven't, you are in for a shock. We too have hired and fired for 23 years now, and there is no guarantee of what you will end up with in the long term. Most employees will start out doing quite well. As time goes on and you get to know the person you have hired, their true self comes to the forefront. We had an employee we hired for the summer and had planned to keep on if things worked out on a part time basis. He worked hard and seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. By the end of the summer I would walk in the back shop to find him blasting a soccer ball off of the bay door. I told him that was not appropriate, but that he was free to go outside during break time or lunch. Later the same day he was gluing parts (contact cement). He would glue two parts then bounce around a basketball while waiting for the glue to dry. He should have been rotating the parts so he didn't have to wait, just keep going. That night after work I removed all the toys (they belonged to my son). A couple days later he went to my wife and wanted to know when he could have the basketball back. She replied how about never, since you were hired here to work, not play games. He said that if we didn't give it back then maybe he didn't want to work here anymore. So we said goodbye. We thought he would work out to be a good employee, but I guess not.

From contributor T:
Contributor S, I thought I had the best story, but yours beat mine. I hired this guy, good smart looking kid, eager, good math skills, hands-on type of kid because of high school football, I expected. Anyway... Day he hired on, he is on cell phone mid-morning at his bench. I walked up, listened and walked away. 15 minutes later saw him with phone in ear again. Walked up and interrupted this time, because I thought the "look" the first time would suffice. He looks annoyed and keeps talking. I motioned for him to "cut." He hangs up and asks "what's wrong?" I asked him why he was on his phone like that during working hours. "Well, that's my girlfriend and she wants to talk." I couldn't believe this kid! I told him to shut the phone off and put it in his pocket until his break or lunch. Guess what? He said, "If I can't talk to my girlfriend here, then I am leaving." I pointed to the door and said "Good Bye!" The kid gave me a very weird look over his shoulder as he went out the door... I thought of my Mom. She would often say, "the nerve of some people's kid's!"