Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Help wanted

If you ask any Vermont company what its biggest problem is today, most will tell you it’s the labor shortage. Our labor force is not growing, and the unemployment rate has hovered at or just below 3 percent for several months. “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere.

I was in a little specialty store the other day. The store is the only one of its kind in this region and it’s out of the way. There was a Help Wanted sign on the cash register. Everyone needs help, and yet, with a labor force of just under 315,000, we have only about 10,000 in the whole state looking for a job. And, of course, none of those people are where you want them.

So what is the solution? How can we fill those jobs that are vacant today? How do we engage the 10,000 unemployed?

There are ways to do it, but some of them require flexibility in our thinking and in our hiring.

Older Workers

Many retired people did not calculate their assets wisely when they were working and are now retired but living below their accustomed station. Some, too, are finding that retirement is boring. So they want an outlet. They may not want to work every day or every work hour of the day, but they do want to earn some extra income.

Here is where employers need flexibility, but you can work your schedule around these retired folks and you can fill some of those openings. The bonus is that retired people have a great work ethic.

People without cars

There are still people in Vermont who don’t have cars. Mostly, it’s one-car families where the “principal breadwinner” uses the car, stranding a spouse or significant other. Some Vermont companies are providing transportation to these people, but there is certainly more that can be done. This is a tricky area, though, so be sure to bring your attorney and your insurance agent into the planning, even if you decide that using a licensed taxi service is the way to go.

People with disabilities

Many disabled people make wonderful workers. All they need is a chance. Often, there is a work coach who will learn the job and then coach the disabled person until he or she can do it. This is a free service provided by many of the agencies that serve the differently abled.

Temporary help services

Full disclosure: I spent 28 years in the temporary help industry, but this is a group that may be able to help solve some recruiting problems.

You might wonder how, if you can’t find employees, a temporary help service can. The secret is in the timing. Temporary help firms are in the labor market every day of the year. They don’t just go into the market when they have an opening; they are in the market every day. They use every tool available and you might only afford or think of two or three tools.

Temporary help services will cost more than your hourly wage, but they pay all the taxes and insurance and you should be able to arrange to transfer the best workers to your payroll after some agreed time.

In days past, we leveled the labor market with immigrants. I remember waves of Bosnians, Somalis, southern Africans, and Vietnamese. But the immigration spigot is dried up for now. Vermont’s birthrate is one of the lowest in the nation, so employers can expect labor shortages for a long time to come.

We all want a vibrant economy and we want to keep our jobs here in Vermont, so we must have creative methods of recruiting our workforce. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.