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Acute worker shortage will ease some, but businesses can adapt to compete
Andrew Cripps
Andrew Cripps

By Andy Cripps

Effingham County Chamber of Commerce CEO

I’m sure you have heard how Effingham County businesses are struggling to fill vacant jobs. The situation is especially acute in the county, with an unemployment rate of just 2.9 percent compared to 4.5 percent across Georgia and 6 percent in the U.S. We expect some improvement, as the state Department of Labor brings back the weekly work search requirement for receiving unemployment benefits. But post-pandemic hiring will continue to be a challenge as the county’s economy grows.

The current worker shortage is unlike anything we have seen in generations. The need for employees affects all business sectors, but especially hard-hit are restaurants, retail, and service businesses, where entry-level jobs are finding few, if any, applicants.

How can small businesses maintain their staffing, and potentially grow as the county grows around them? They will need to adjust to the fact that they are in a competition for workers and change their game plan for hiring.

Market to employees like you market to customers

Companies need to sell themselves as an attractive place to work, with short-term perks and long-term opportunities. View the job ad from the candidate’s perspective: ask yourself, “Would you work for you? How does your company look to other people, even when you’re not hiring?”

Many job ads list the basics: $14/hour, must have driver’s license, hard-working, reliable, better show up. That’s unexciting. Everybody does that. Instead, you can present an image that stands out to your ideal candidates, the image of a workplace they might like to be part of. That will help you attract people who are now choosing from multiple options where they will return to work.

Incentives like bonuses for staying on the job for 30, 60, 90 days can help, but other, larger companies are doing the same or more. Potential employees are looking for compensation, for sure. But they are also looking for purpose and to be part of a winning team.

Better to tell candidates why they should want to work at your company right in the job ad. If you plan to dramatically grow your company, list that in your ad. If your team is tight-knit and supportive, let prospective candidates know.

Smaller businesses actually have more flexibility to create a close-knit, family atmosphere in the workplace. Because you’re small, you are probably on-site most of the time, and can build nurturing relationships with your team. That relationship with the owner or manager is the top factor in an employee’s job satisfaction, and the second most important determinant of an employee’s overall feeling of well-being. You can create a fun environment, where people want to stay and work for you.

Your employees can be your best recruiters.

Referrals from existing employees is a winning recruitment method that has helped some service companies attract and retain some of their best workers. The referral programs pay a bonus to any employee that refers someone who stays with the company for at least 90 days.

Referrals are most successful when the owner creates an atmosphere where employees want their friends to work because there’s opportunity and they know they will be treated well.

Expand your definition of “a good candidate.”

In this worker shortage, companies may need to be more open to candidates they would not otherwise consider, such as people with a criminal record. Obviously, your top priority is the safety of your customers and your team. But some who have made mistakes earlier in life can be eager, conscientious workers when given a chance.

A couple years ago I worked on a program in Newport News, Virginia, providing summer work experiences for young adults, some of whom had minor offenses on their record. I saw first-hand that several of those men and women, (not all, of course) were strongly motivated by the opportunity to show an employer that they could be trusted to show up on time and work hard without complaint.

Long-Term Unemployment can become a trap.

Finally, a message to those who have left the workforce during the pandemic and are now considering whether to return to work. It is important to get back to work, as soon as possible, even if you will earn less than your current unemployment benefits.

During the Great Recession we learned that it is not a lack of skills or talent that keep the long-term unemployed (six months or longer) from going back to work. It is a confluence of forces that work against their return to meaningful employment.

We learned that employers routinely look for folks who are employed or short-term unemployed. This is the practice of stereotyping and making assumptions without interviewing candidates. The long-term unemployed are an immediate target of bias and discrimination solely because of the duration of their unemployment. Long-term unemployment robs workers of their competitive edge in the marketplace. The current environment presents an opportunity to get back on a payroll and better position yourself for your preferred employment.