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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Tug-of-war

Corporations entice workers with college tuition September 13, 2021 at 2:28 a.m.

There's this event called the Great Resignation that's supposedly going on now as people quit their jobs in large numbers. On the one hand, some argue that those jobs aren't paying enough to keep the workers. On the other hand, some say too many are enjoying government funding to stay home.

As Harry S. Truman once said, give me a one-armed economist! He was tired of being told on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand that.

But two of the country's biggest employers are in a benefit war--or maybe just a scuffle--to keep their workers, and that usually works out to the advantage of, well, the workers.

Back in July, Walmart announced a tuition plan for employees. The price tag for an education never looked so good. Here's more from Forbes:

"Walmart is fighting student loan debt with a bold new move: making college tuition-free for its associates. Walmart's program represents the ultimate education benefit: tuition-free college. If Walmart associates don't need to borrow any student loans to pay for their degree, this reduces the aggregate amount of future student loan debt and provides a path to financial freedom for tens of thousands of people."

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal if you work at Walmart, but we'll have to disagree about the "tuition-free" part of the story. It isn't free. Somebody is paying for it. Somebody always pays for it. Even if it's taxpayers, as some have suggested. Until professors work for free, and buildings are built for free, and textbooks are given away by publishers for free, a higher education will cost.

But a deal is a deal. And if Walmart is willing to pay, it's a good deal for its associates.

Amazon is driving a similar bargain for its workers.

"Amazon said Thursday it will offer to pay 100 percent of college tuition for its 750,000 U.S. hourly employees," CNBC reports. "Starting in January, Amazon said, it will cover the cost of college tuition, fees and textbooks for hourly employees in its operations network after 90 days of employment."

That's the better way to write the story. Amazon is paying.

You gotta love the free market. Two giant corporations duking it out to attract or keep the top talent from walking out the door. And apparently the companies think it's in the companies' best interest to do so. What a country!

Walmart recently bumped its minimum wage up to $12; CNBC reports Walmart's U.S. average hourly wage is now $16.40. And Amazon's minimum is currently $15 for U.S. employees. As far as hourly wages go, those aren't too shabby. And the government mandated none of it.

What it all speaks to is smart companies know how to compete for workers. And it happens differently across the many sectors of the U.S. economy. Right now what hotels and restaurants seem to be witnessing is, depending on who you listen to, a worker shortage or a sudden wide resistance among workers to low wages and no benefits.

There's also a third possibility to consider, but it's not nearly as sexy as the other two. A number of workers have simply picked up new skills and decided to leave their respective industries altogether, moving to better jobs. Such is the ladder of the U.S. job market. What a country, part II!

Working through a pandemic seems to have awakened a large sector of retail/food workers who decided they'd rather go back to school for better jobs. Or maybe they've decided to pick up a trade and make more money.

The response for some restaurants has been to turn to younger teens, ages 14 and 15, to make up the difference. An image of a McDonald's in Oregon with a large banner outside that read, "Now hiring 14- and 15-year-olds" went viral last week and got Twitter talking (though that doesn't take much to accomplish).

Some folks on Twitter scolded the restaurants for targeting younger workers instead of raising wages to attract older employees. But it's not out of the ordinary to see younger teens in fast-food jobs. We had friends in high school who worked at the local supermarket when they were 15. Talk to any 15-year-old about whether they need extra cash.

Back in the office sector, money doesn't seem to be the main tug-of-war right now. It's remote work vs. back to the office. In offices around the country, managers seem to fall into one of two categories: wanting workers back where they can see them, or viewing evidence of productivity increases with remote work.

It looks like a number of workers have gotten used to remote work and ditching daily commutes into the office. Companies trying to force the issue are finding out their employees would rather quit in some cases than go back to the office, which is partly fueling this Great Resignation so many headlines are blaring about.

Our advice to managers? Be graceful and strive for some kind of balance.

Or maybe more companies should take a page from Walmart and Amazon when it comes to keeping workers. College is just one of the benefits talented workers might expect now. Employees are also looking for stipends for child care, expanded vacation options, work-from-home options and more.

The game of tug-of-war continues.

Print Headline: Tug-of-war

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