Businesses continue tough battle to get workers

These are frustrating times for Quad Cities businessman Gerald Shelton.

Mr. Shelton, the owner and manager of several area Subway restaurants, needs employees for many of his Illinois Quad Cities locations. And it seems like nobody is interested in taking the open jobs.

“It’s rough right now,” he said. “Sometimes I go two months without getting a single application. And when you get an applicant, it’s harder to be selective when you are only getting one application.”

Mr. Shelton owns the Subways in Coal Valley and inside the Moline Walmart. He also manages the Subways restaurants in East Moline, Silvis, Hillsdale and Port Byron. Not all of those businesses need more workers, but he has enough open positions at his seven stores that he has been forced to make a tough decision – reduce some store hours and shut some of his stores early.

“Some stores are closing at 4 p.m. on Saturday… We lose out on some sales, but at the same time, if you don’t have the staff, what are you going to do?” he added.

The restaurateur clearly is not the only business owner facing a problem with getting workers. 

A “Now Hiring” sign is seen in front of a fast-food restaurant in Davenport. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

One area business owner recently called the ongoing labor shortage the worst he has seen in his career. “I’ve never seen this before, and I’m not that young,” said Jeff Lanum, owner of the Electric Doctor in Bettendorf.

Mr. Lanum, who had a business booth set up at the recent Quad Cities Farm Show in Rock Island, said during the show that his business continues to look for licensed electricians. The jobs offer $2,000 hiring bonuses and wages of about $125,000 a year with benefits. Still, few qualified people want the jobs, he said.

The labor shortage continues to ripple through the economy as big and small businesses across the nation post “Help Wanted” signs and offer new incentives all in hopes of finding employees. Here is look at some of the job offers and employment situations among Quad Cities employers:

  • Tyson Foods is offering a $3,000 sign-on bonus for new employees and a $6,000 bonus for what it is calling its “premium jobs.”
  • John Deere is looking for welders, offering a wage of more than $23 an hour.
  • Fast food restaurants are offering on-the-spot interviews and hiring.
  • Area companies are holding job fairs, some in partnership with employment agencies. They are seeking software engineers, meat packers, meat molders, machine operators, accountants, sales reps and offering many other positions.

In mid-January, Iowa reported 83,331 job openings in the state. At the same time, 61,600 Iowans were getting unemployment benefits. The state unemployment rate was under 4% in late January. The situation is so dire that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is calling for changes in the IowaWorkforce Development office, including cutting the amount of time Iowans can get unemployment benefits.

Several regional business advocate organizations have called the job shortage the most serious issue facing local businesses.

The new leader of the Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) recently said that one of his priorities for the year will be helping companies find creative ways to attract people to those jobs. 

Andy Sokolovich, the CRDC’s interim president, said that one of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that many people worked from home and took a better look at their communities. And in many cases, they decided they don’t want to live in larger cities. That’s where some communities can tout their quality of life in order to attract workers. “We have to be less humble and more braggy about Clinton,” said Mr. Sokolovich.

During a recent Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce event, area businesses were given some lessons on being less humble and how to better promote themselves to attract workers. The event, titled Talent Business Forum, focused on potential solutions to the crippling labor shortage.

“The world is changing dramatically… This is a big deal and it’s not going away. We are going to pay more (for employees),” said Jim Morgan, vice president at Business Development & Workforce Strategies, who was the keynote speaker at the Chamber’s virtual event.

Mr. Morgan added that the current labor shortage is a demographic issue, not just an economic one as people are leaving the workforce. It is an issue that has been in the making for decades.

Here are some of the strategies Mr. Morgan outlined for business to attract and keep workers:

  • Speed up the interview process for new employees. “This is an Amazon world” and potential new employees expect fast-paced results during the interview, Mr. Morgan said. He added that companies should have the goal of having a two-week time-frame from interview to job offer.
  • Target your company benefits for the new employee. “Remember, it’s not a benefit if they don’t think it’s a benefit,” he said. Mr. Morgan added benefits should fit the needs of the employee. For instance, younger adults could see a benefit if their employer offers to pay off student loans; those in their 30s may prefer health care benefits for their children; while employees in their 40s and older could be attracted to retirement benefits such as company-matching 401(k) accounts.
  • Get to people before they are looking for work. Use internships and apprenticeships to develop a future workforce. During the talent forum, Mike Oberhaus, the chief strategy officer for the Quad Cities Chamber, presented information on student apprenticeship programs. On the local level, he said nine school districts are participating in nine occupational programs with 93 students enrolled in the programs.
  • “Uber hiring.” When interviewing potential employees, get to know their available schedules and schedule the work to fit those times.
  • Hire retirees. Mr. Morgan said 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the United States. Target this audience and find ways to hold on to older workers.
  • Get creative. Don’t let good employees leave. Offer them part-time positions, remote work and flexible schedules.
  • Several business owners have reported that getting new employees in the door is just part of the problem – getting them to stay is another big issue.

“I have some people who will work one day and never come back,” Mr. Shelton said about his quest to get workers for his Subway restaurants.

Alex Buffington, a sales representative with Group Schumacher of Durant, Iowa, added that his agricultural business faces the same issue. Some of their employees are leaving – lured away by more money.

“We’ve never had this many openings,” added Mr. Buffington. “People, especially our engineers, are being offered more money and leaving us for other places.”

Schumacher, which produces harvesting equipment, was looking to hire at least 10 employees in mid-January, Mr. Buffington added.

The lesson many businesses need to learn is that the ongoing labor shortage is not going away anytime soon, said Mr. Morgan. 

He adds that job-seekers with skills will probably be in a very good position to demand more from potential employers for years to come.

“We need them more than they need us right now,” Mr. Morgan added.

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