Employers find new ways to attract, retain workers

“We’re involved with some of the school-based programs to drive awareness (especially targeting) graduating high school students,” Snyder said. “And we’re involved with multiple recruiting and staffing companies to try and find the right candidates. We’ve had every net out.”

Keeping workforce levels up, of course, is not just a manufacturing problem. Just the particulars are different.

Mobility in health care

Area hospitals, for example, are having a hard time keeping staff, especially nurses, from moving on, often just to another local hospital. They’re lured by hiring bonuses, a more attractive shift or a different work environment — like leaving an emergency room job for one at a long-term nursing facility.

The hospitals are also competing with the companies that offer what are called health care professional travel contracts, where nurses and other allied professionals take short-term assignments mostly in hospitals around the country, even around the world, that pay considerably more than local rates.

The No. 1 reason employees leave University Hospitals, said Kim Shelnik, vice president for talent acquisition, is to go to a competitor.

“They move because they’re trying to find the best schedule, the best pay, et cetera,” she said. “Or they’re picking new career fields outside of health care because many individuals can work from home or remote and we can’t always offer that in health care because we’re taking care of patients. And then, retirement, of course.”

Construction incentives

The problem in the construction industry stems from the boom in commercial building.

David Wondolowski, executive director of the Building & Construction Trades Council, said construction projects planned or underway — such as the Sherwin-Williams Co. headquarters and at the area’s major hospitals — means construction firms can expect to face five years of worker shortages. His association represents 12,000 tradespeople who belong to the council’s 29 local unions — bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and more.

The No. 1 reason employees leave University Hospitals, said Kim Shelnik, vice president for talent acquisition, is to go to a competitor.

Glen Shumate, executive vice president of the Construction Employers Association, which represents firms that use union construction workers, agreed with Wondolowski about the increase in demand and added that the building boom in Central Ohio, which includes Intel, will draw tradespeople away from Northeast Ohio. Shumate said that if Intel or some of the other big projects in Central Ohio need workers, they might pay higher-earning tradespeople an $8-$10 an hour premium.

“If you can get a 25% bump in your pay for an hour and a half drive or commute, you may go down there,” Shumate said. “I do know companies who have already lost project managers to (out-of-town) work.”

But again, it’s not just a pay issue. Shumate said he heard from one member contractor who told him about a package to entice workers that includes opportunities for advancement and leadership training. The contractor also said the company was planning to increase wages to help workers pay for child care and adding a 5 to 11 p.m. half shift to attract someone who was part of a working couple or someone who works a full-day shift but wants an extra paycheck.

Another said it was offering paid maternity leave, and a third, a highway contractor, was doing its first-ever job fair in Akron.

Rethinking requirements

Another way employers need to rethink their hiring plans is about the educational experience they require.

William Gary, Tri-C’s executive vice president for workforce, community and economic development, said that 65% of the in-demand jobs require some form of post-high school education, but not necessarily the four-year bachelor’s degree that employers may put on a job posting.

“Why do we have these artificial gatekeeper sort of credentials?” he asked. “Ultimately you have people with the experience that have done the work in places where they didn’t need those credentials that are talent that (an employer) could acquire if you reexamine some of these gatekeeper credentials.”

He and Tri-C president Michael Baston believe business and industry need to understand that because potential employees have options, they need to adjust their criteria. “We try to encourage through our work to have companies reexamine those policies that really create barriers for a lot of the targeted audiences that they’re trying to see,” said Baston.

He pointed out, for example, the problem with a policy that says they won’t hire smokers. “But many in their existing workforce smoke when they leave the building on a break,” he said.

Tri-C offers programs that lead to careers in fields such as accounting, business management, hospitality management and nursing with either a certificate or two-year associate degrees. Baston said many of the curricula combine short-term classroom programs of up to two years with on-the-job experience.

Baston also cited Tri-C programs — as well as programs at so-called coding boot camps like Cleveland’s Tech Elevator — that train people to be software developers, cybersecurity specialists and Microsoft Office specialists in short-term classes.

The building trades and CEA also offer training opportunities — its young Cleveland Builds pre-apprenticeship program is designed to attract young people to their industry. After completing the four-week program, where they learn from different professionals in the trades, the graduates can seek four-year apprenticeships with construction firms where they can earn an average of $16 an hour and then move on to a journeyman job that the CBCTC says can pay an average of $27.64 an hour, or $58,000 a year.

Wondolowski pointed out a key attraction to apprenticeships — a paycheck while learning instead of the potential of debt from college loans.

“Even if you’re at a state school, you probably have 20 grand a year, $80,000, in debt over four years,” he said. “But in four years with the building trades, you probably make an average of $50,000 a year.”

Smaller struggles

While large employers may have the larger number of jobs to fill, small firms, too, have been challenged to keep staffing up.

“We’re surviving,” said Raymond Paganini, CEO of Cornerstone IT in Mentor, which provides managed information technology services to a range of businesses. “I mean, for a while there, when, you know, everything hit the fan, we were little short staffed and everybody had to chip in. We had to work overtime to cover everything and, fortunately, we were able to service the clients.”

Paganini said he hired placement firms to replace staff he’s lost through the pandemic and, in addition to the added cost of the placement services, he’s paying 20% to 25% more in salaries than he was three years ago. He’s made other changes as well.

“We loosened our restrictions on what the (hiring) requirements were,” he said. “No longer did you have to be based in Northeast Ohio; we were OK with going a little wider, even outside Ohio.”

He said his staff of 18 now includes two people working outside Northeast Ohio.

In July, Cornerstone IT was acquired by Logically Inc., a large managed services provider base in Portland, Maine, that has made 10 similar acquisitions since 2019. Paganini, a serial entrepreneur, said the rising costs were not a factor in the sale; rather, it was a planned sale. He had set a goal several years ago.

“I had a goal in my mind where I wanted the company to consider being acquired by a large company,” he said. “So I hit that level in 2020.”

When he saw the company was over the pandemic hump, in particular with staffing, he revisited his sale plans.

“I like where the new company’s going,” he said. “And they actually have a recruitment office.”

Lydia Tyner works with pieces of metal equipment at Talan.

Lydia Tyner works at Talan. The firm has added 20 workers this year and hopes to reach 100 workers in the next few years.

Casting a wider net

The staffing shortage has also hit the more creative side of the business world; jobs that, in earlier times, would see resumes flooding in.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum recently had nine jobs posted on Indeed.com, including one for a “Garage Musician.” The Rock Hall needs to hire several performing musician at $16 an hour to work in its garage space, performing with guests, teaching instrument performance and participating in jam sessions.

It’s also looking for a communications director, security representatives, an audio engineer and something called the programming and visitor engagement coordinator.

Thunder::tech, a Cleveland marketing firm, has five jobs posted on its website, including for positions that support content management systems and application developers. It’s also looking to hire what it calls a web development apprentice — someone who wants a career developing websites.

CEO Jason Therrien said his 50-person firm, which has an office in Detroit in addition to its headquarters on Perkins Avenue in Cleveland, has hired 10 people in the last two years and has begun to consider people who live beyond those two cities to work remotely.

That’s a key part of what Therrien called the new “negotiables and flexibles.”

Flexibles, in addition to where people live, are such things as start times and breaks in the workday once they get started.

“Especially with families, we tell them to block the time on their calendars when they’re picking their kids up from school; we never override that,” Therrien said. “And we also say we won’t try to call them during those times because that’s important to them. Now, when the kid gets home and they settle them down, they get back on.”

Therrien said his company has also changed how it evaluates long-distance job candidates.

“We built a matrix of how we score and look at candidates from afar,” he said. “We prefer the time zone to be Eastern or Central and, obviously, more points for being in state or within a (reasonable) drive of an office. But if we find a rock star outside of that group, fine, we’ll hire them now where we would’ve never even entertained it.”

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Employers find new ways to attract, retain workers

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