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.
ASHLAND — Many Ashland-area businesses have adapted their recruitment strategies and offerings — adding hiring and referral bonuses, raising wages and giving discounts — in an attempt to get more people to apply.
The South Street Grille in Ashland has a referral program through which employees can get bonuses, Little, the owner, said. While this tactic may not necessarily incentivize new hires, Little intends for it to help with the retention of the employees the restaurant does have, she said.
South Street Grille has also posted job openings on external sites, such as Indeed and Facebook, in an attempt to appeal to a larger pool of potential workers, Little said.
Ashland City Schools increased student teaching hourly wages, up to $20 more than pre-pandemic wages, but has not seen more interest in positions since the wage change, assistant superintendent Steve Paramore said.
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. These resources pre-date the pandemic.
The employment agency Spherion in Ashland has honed in on its one-on-one approach to matching employee and employer needs, said Jessica Hiser, business development and client relations director for Spherion.
Rather than advising their clients of one quick fix solution, the agency is working one on one with job seekers and employers to find the right fit, Hiser 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, 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 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 that 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 Ashland-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.
Logan 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?’”