You could impale me for being obvious if I said the labor market was tight. That wouldn’t be news, nor would me saying this is the most difficult hiring landscape I’ve seen since I first took the plunge into the staffing industry in 1983. (This is not a typo, folks – and, yes – this type of longevity in the crazy world of contingent labor is evidence that therapy is not always effective). Of the three factors in acquiring talent – speed, cost and quality – what is usually sacrificed first? I would quickly say quality.

Our COO, Jim Weaver, has eloquently articulated the trilemma of fast-good-cheap when it comes to acquiring contingent or extended workers, particularly in the light industrial space. It is a worthy read and you can find it here – The Staffing Trilemma.

Although not necessarily backed up by big data or even small surveys, my view of the market is fast is still critical, especially in a light industrial environment steered by Just in Time (JIT) or Just in Sequence (JIS) manufacturing and distribution. In product and parts delivery, the fast factor is alive and well, and the online retail experience is altering the consumer’s paradigm of what fast is: “They said it would ship next week? Are you serious?” Heck, you can build your own car and have it shipped in less than a week so why shouldn’t less complex products be in our hands within minutes instead of days. Order, drone and drop, I say – whatever it takes to get the thing into my grubby paws NOW!

Employers often have the same perspective: “Of course we are the employer of choice. Who wouldn’t want to work here?”

That said, the real question should be an authentic and transparent: “Why would someone want to work at my organization as opposed to the myriad of other options they have?”

Sarcastically speaking, we all know the onboarding processes they mandate — drug and background screens, multiple skills assessments, education verification and orientations — don’t require time and can be produced faster than a diploma mill generates sheepskins. “You can have someone here yesterday, right?” is not always facetious.

And then there is price, which is a very different thing than cost (see What Are You Really Paying? ), as consumers we have gotten spoiled by lower prices for more product in certain spaces. Trust me, I just bought a 55-inch Smart TV with 4K graphics for under $400, and it was shipped to my front door in just a couple of days (speed again). I’m a huge fan of electronics prices and I can’t understand why all other products don’t seem to defy the laws of inflation like they do.

And companies are sometimes no different; they often seem to think there is a ginormous pool of workers with clean criminal records, can pass a simple five-panel drug screen and have all required right-to-work documents lined up at our branches’ front door hungry for minimum wage employment — and there are no entitlement programs that will net them more income without lifting their bum. Oh yes, and staffing companies aren’t for-profit entities but serve the greater good through their philanthropic endeavors.

So, of the 3 variables in the trilemma, speed and price don’t seem to be going away despite their seeming betrayal of the law of supply and demand. That leaves quality. Am I suggesting that companies don’t want quality workers? Not at all. What I’m suggesting is that quality, in its truest form, ranks a distant third, no matter all the whining that “You don’t send us good people” and the “It’s hard to find good help” axiom. Candidly, I think much of the quality talk of 15 to 20 years ago, that you still hear as buzzwords and see as dying corporate programs, wasn’t intended for the workforce anyway.

Instead, we have created screening and onboarding requirements that are a smokescreen for real quality. Don’t get me wrong, passing a drug screen, background check, and skills assessment, in some cases, help weed out undesirables, but these things in no way guarantee a quality worker. You can be clean and sober, and be worthless on a forklift. My cats could get through most onboarding processes, but would probably sleep through breaks, puke up hairballs on the shop floor and be all paws on the assembly line.

My point is today’s definition of finding quality employees emphasizes the function of pre-hiring processes and has little to do with post-hiring practices. It’s almost a nature-versus-nurture dynamic and I believe quality workers are more likely made rather than born. And that puts the bullseye right on employers, as opposed to those screening out (instead of screening in) new hires. Qualified and quality, although from the same root word, can mean very different things.

What’s the answer? In my humble but accurate opinion, spend more time screening workers in than out and invest in them like crazy once in your door. Invest in them – time, training, mentoring and resources – as if your business’ future depended on their quality.

Because, in all honesty, it does. See, if you superficially keep speed and cheap in the equation but these low-quality workers slow production and create rework by doing all the things we know poor quality workers do, then now you’ve lost the fast and cost variables as well. It actually takes you longer, and costs you more, to produce or ship your product, because you forgot what real quality means and that it’s found not in some hiring process, but your company’s ability to invest in and instill the qualities (please note the root word) that make for truly good workers.