EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a four-part series that will explore the reassessment of work standards as well as turnover rates and retention challenges faced by local businesses. It will delve into what nearby counties, states and countries have tried to address the apparent workforce shortage. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here. Part Three can be found here.
MOUNT VERNON — Many Knox-area businesses have adapted their recruitment strategies — adding hiring and referral bonuses, raising wages and giving discounts — in an attempt to get more people to apply.
Southside Diner has a referral program, for example, that allows employees to gain bonuses of up to $500 if both the hiree and employee who referred them are still employed after six months.
The remaining staff at Southside Diner has also engaged with new marketing strategies to garner applicant interest, Frank Winter said, including redesigning job applications and posting job openings on external sites such as Indeed and Facebook.
Similar to Southside Diner, Taco Bell offers referral bonuses and discounts at other businesses, including AT&T, Payless, Six Flags and AVIS. But Josh Lester, the manager, is reluctant to say these incentives help much with hiring.
Companies in Knox County, Ashland County and across the country have hiked wages to lure workers.
Both Ashland and Knox have resource rooms accessible to the public, where job seekers can receive assistance with aspects of their job searches including resume preparation, career counseling, free internet, clothes and gas vouchers to assist in the application and interview process, et cetera. These resources pre-date the pandemic.
Knox County's Area Development Foundation is creating a manufacturing and healthcare job board solely for Knox County, which should come out in the fall of 2021, Gottke said.
What have other areas tried?
To address the reassessment of work standards:
Similar to some businesses in north central Ohio, restaurants in Philadelphia, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. and South Carolina credited their ability to hire workers to raising wages to $15 an hour or more.
Specifically for manufacturing jobs in rural areas, factories have tried to change negative perceptions of factory jobs by opening their plants to the public, such as Minnesota-based Alexandria Industries.
Alexandria Industries has looked beyond the jobs it offers to work culture and wrap-around benefits, such as near-site health care. Other manufacturing companies have installed amenities such as pool tables and invested in Wi-Fi-enabled buses to provide easier commutes for workers who live far distances away.
Some local state and municipal governments have adopted financial incentives to entice workers to move or return to their rural roots. For example, Kansas has designated 95 counties as “Rural Opportunity Zones,” which means workers who move there get added benefits including student loan repayment assistance and state income tax waivers.
To address turnover rates and retention challenges:
Some areas have looked to youth as a solution by helping students capitalize on job openings.
A program in St. Louis is focusing on connecting students to employers through summer jobs that can translate into careers. Nearly 95% of participants in the program felt better-prepared to look for work after the program because of improved confidence and skills, according to the program's website.
Looking to youth to fill worker shortages is not necessarily new. When there were poll worker shortages in 2020, for example, several cities relied on teens for help.
Some companies are including immigrants in their recruitment of workers outside the state, including a small, family-owned construction company in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Research from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization, found the COVID-19 pandemic has had a limited negative effect on the growth of industries that often rely on high-skilled foreign workers due to chronic labor shortages.
Other businesses have brought the work to the workers.
In London, the Good Hotel, situated in a low-income, low-educated area, provides long-term unemployed people with job training and jobs in the hotel industry, and it takes on the responsibility of helping its trainees find employment so they can stay in the industry.
Some companies have purposefully recruited workers from other fields when they have faced worker shortages.
For example, cybersecurity companies in Colorado began recruiting and training veterans after recognizing the similarities between the two sectors’ lingo and tactics.
In terms of government involvement, other countries provided payroll subsidies to avoid layoffs during the pandemic.
Germany did this, allowing employers to keep employing their workers by cutting back hours for everyone. Unemployment funds that would usually go to those who are laid off were instead directed to employers' payrolls, which allowed workers to return to work full-time when the health crisis was under control.
Locally, employers, job seekers and leaders in the Knox-area have an array of reasons as to why there appears to be a lack of workers responding to available jobs, and quick fixes do not seem plausible.
Trevon Logan, an economics professor at The Ohio State University and a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, said the country is coming out of a period of employee learning. A job is no longer just a job for many, Logan said, emphasizing that the decisions employees make are complex.
“I think that people are asking a much more nuanced question now,” Logan said, “which is, ‘Is the job a quality job? Is this a job that is actually worth my time?’”