What do companies want from their workers?

May 13, 2008
By: Marty Rice

In his extensive career as a welder and welding instructor, Marty Rice has learned a thing or two about the qualities companies look for in their employees beyond skill proficiency. This anecdotal article discusses these qualities and their importance from Rice's perspective.

As an author, my trademark is beginning my articles with something stupid I've done. Fortunately, or unfortunately I have a huge list to choose from, but I'm proud to say I at least have learned from a lot of 'em. One thing I tell my students is I'm not afraid to admit I make mistakes; I'm human. I've seen instructors in my time who had the "my way or the wrong way" attitude and acted like they never made a mistake. Same with some of the foremen I had on the job.

What's funny about those who would have you think they never make mistakes is the student or worker sees right through them and loses respect for them almost instantly. I've heard students and workers laughing behind teachers' and foremens' backs. Heck, I laugh with my students as I tell them about some of the harebrained stuff I've done. Hopefully, they won't repeat my mistakes.

So … how 'bout this one? My buddy Rick and I were sitting in a tavern one evening when a blue norther blew in, bringing a big-time blizzard with it. We knew work would be canceled the next day, so after having a few too many beers, we decided to out-macho each other by playing the "cigarette game." We put our arms together, dropped two cigarettes between them and one on each of our wrists. We even had a guy there randomly puffing on them to keep 'em going.

Well, neither one of us would chicken out; we were both too tough and stupid to quit. So for years now, I've carried a scar proclaiming what a dumbass I was one night. (Technically I won because my buddy ended up going to the hospital when his burn became infected.)

We worked hard, competed hard, and played hard. On the jobs we were the first hired and the last laid off because our reputation was one of hard work. In the Ironworkers union our motto is "eight hour's work for eight hour's pay," and we lived up to that motto. (By the way, my principal asked me to quit telling the cigarette story to my high school students, because one of the kuckleheads went home and played it with his brother. He must have forgotten that the reason I told it was for them to not do it! That "kid" is now a young man who is a successful welder and I still hear from him.)

Going all out, doing it right the first time, workin' hard, earning your pay are what being a craftsman is all about. Whether you're starting out in the great trade of welding or are an old hand, if you ain't giving your all you're cheating yourself, your co-workers, your boss, and your company.

What Companies Want

What do companies want? In my experience dealing with welding shops and field erectors, I've narrowed down a few of the traits they're looking for.

1. Hard Workers—Duh… if you work hard, you contribute to the company's production, which is what it's all about. Shops, factories, and mills all exist to produce products. Erectors use those products to build structures. Quite simply, hard workers enhance the processes; slackers hinder them.

A slacker can influence fellow workers to slack off. A hard worker can inspire others to work hard with them. On the job, time is money and all it takes is one slacker to lose money for the company.

2. On-time, Every Day, Hands—In ironworking, I work on a welding gang (crew) with a pusher (foreman.) When the job gets going, it's almost like a symphony with musicians and a conductor.

Good workers plus a good foreman equals good production.

Bad workers plus a good foreman equals lousy production.

Good workers plus a bad foreman equals lousy production.

Many times you work with a partner or a team. If you miss a day, you throw the "symphony" out of tune. And when you do that, you irritate your fellow workers because they then have to carry your load. Of course, everybody has to miss work for important reasons, such as illness. I'm talking about missing when you danged well shoulda and coulda been there.

In the field if you miss work a lot, you'll get the nickname "part-time." It's a lousy name to have, and the next step after that name is getting run off the job.

3. Honesty—Workers who lie, cheat, and steal cost our nation huge amounts of lost revenue every year. A good article on company theft can be found here.

I once worked on a job where a guy sold breakfast every morning. He had a big lunchbox that he'd bring in and sell its contents to us bachelors who never made our food to take to work. He had a lucrative side business going, and the company didn't mind him doing it. He was also a good welder. One day the gate guard noticed that the rope the guy used to carry the box was digging into his shoulder as he was leaving. The box was searched, and a 50-lb. box of 7018 welding rods was found inside!

Here this guy was, making who knows how much selling breakfast with the company's blessing, and he ws stealing from them! Unfreaking real! And guess who pays for the loss? The consumer. Companies lose money and pass the loss on to us. People cheat insurance companies, our rates go up. People shoplift, our product prices go up. And so the theft chain goes.

4. Problem Solvers—We're on the 24th floor of a high rise when a guy's welding machine has no juice. He slides down columns a few floors, goes down a couple of ladders, finds the floor where the outside elevator has been erected, and heads to the ground. He walks around for 10 minutes until he finds the foreman. He and the foreman spend another 10 minutes making their way back to his workstation, where the foreman finds one of the welder's leads was not connected.

The very first thing this guy should have done was check his machine. Was it plugged in? Was it turned on? Were the amps (heat) set right?

The next thing he shoulda checked was his leads. But no, Mr. Lack-of-Initiative has to go find daddy and tell him something's wrong. The key activity here would be to think! Use the head for something besides a hat rack or hair grower! Do everything you can to get the problem solved, and then ask a co-worker. If the co-worker can't help, then go to the foreman.

An important ingredient of problem solving is effective communication—being able to express yourself coherently. This skill benefits life in general—arguing your point with a bogus car repairman, bill collector, spouse, need I say more?

Wanna know an easy way of becoming more articulate? Read! Fiction, nonfiction, whatever you like, get it and read it. Get a newspaper everyday and read the first two paragraphs of every story of the first section to find out what's going on in the world. The more you read, the more you exercise your mind. The more you exercise your mind, the more you learn and the more articulate you become, grasshopper.

5. Team Players—Get along!I don't care what color you are; you can be purple with pink polka dots. I don't care what race, religion, where you're from, how you talk, what your interests are. What I do care about is you getting along with everyone on the job, especially if you're in the welding trade. It is dangerous enough in the shop and field without having to worry about a fight breaking out.

Now I'm not saying you have to hug and sing happy songs together. I'm just saying you need to put any differences aside and work with each other. It's a good idea to have a conflict management plan and communicate it to employees. Hey, maybe a boxing ring and … well, maybe not.

I'll never forget the late Duane McLaughlin asking, "Did you know your weld is your signature?"—a line I quoted in another article. (Notice I have added to my "stupid story" trademark by blatantly and shamelessly referencing my own articles each time I write.)

He'd ask that question of a new welder, he'd ask it of a seasoned hand, and he'd ask it of welding instructors. And he wasn't bashful about telling you what that meant. A good craftsman leaves his or her signature with a good bead every time.

Leave a good signature not only in your beads, but in the way you work. Work hard, do it right, and then feel great about yourself. You earned it!

Marty Rice

Marty Rice

Contributing Writer
High School Career Center in Texas
Marty Rice is a welding instructor at a high school career center in Texas. He is an honorary member of the Ironworkers Local 263.


Questions for the author can be e-mailed to vickib@thefabricator.com