Employers face challenge to retain workers

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Sabre Yachts in Maine has had to increase salaries within the last few years to attract workers in a tight labor market.  

Sabre Yachts in Maine has had to increase salaries within the last few years to attract workers in a tight labor market.  

Bloomberg Businessweek looked at three cities in Georgia, Iowa and Maine with nearly full employment and workforce shortages to see how they coped with finding workers.

Reporters visited Portland, Maine; Marietta, Georgia; and Ames, Iowa, to see what businesses were doing to fill in the labor gaps.

They discovered that employers have found ways to cope with tight labor markets and “still make money,” Bloomberg reported.

Businesses have pulled in workers from the sidelines — including retirees, immigrants, and the homeless — and retooled processes to use less labor. Some have raised pay considerably for certain jobs, but the reporters found no signs of an overall wage explosion.

Maine Chocolate Confections is facing a dilemma due to a manufacturing worker shortage, owner Andrew Wilbur told Bloomberg.

At 1.8 percent, the unemployment rate is the third-lowest in the country, leading Wilbur to consider bringing in more mechanization.

Wilbur has raised wages for his 40 employees by more than 20 percent over the past three years, but he’s passed hardly any of his costs onto consumers.

With inexperienced workers starting at $12 to $14 an hour, onboarding is becoming a major expense.

Some companies are trying to snap up workers before they hit the job market. At Iowa State’s College of Engineering, internship postings by Ames companies rose 20 percent in 2017, far exceeding the 2 percent increase in postings overall.

In Marietta, fast food chains have been offering signing bonuses.

InfoMart Inc., a 137-person operation that performs background screenings for companies, began paying 100 percent of its employees’ health insurance premiums this year, up from 75 percent.

The company also rehabbed its office space to make it more “collaborative-looking” to appeal to millennials, senior vice president Tim Gordon told the publication. It also allows its tech employees to work from home four out of five days a week.

Just outside the city limits, Gas South LLC, a natural gas retailer, raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in late 2016 and now offers every employee — including those in its call center — a one-month paid sabbatical every five years on top of regular vacation time.

It also pays its workers’ health insurance premiums and has equipped its call center employees, so they can work from home.

“We did some research into the cost of living and discovered that some of our people were really struggling,” says Gas South CEO Kevin Greiner told the publication. “With more money comes less stress. It helps us recruit and keep quality people.”

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