Springfield, MO

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Rebecca Green | SBJ

Full Gear: Employers look to attract and keep workers

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“Help wanted” signs continue to dominate the Springfield area, with good reason.

The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds a record number of job openings nationwide, documented in March at 11.5 million.

At the same time, the Springfield-area unemployment rate was 2.8% – well below what the U.S. Federal Reserve considers full employment, 5%-5.2%.

In short, there aren’t any spare workers to fill a record number of openings. Employers who want to maintain or grow their workforce must make one of two moves: attract workers from within the few who are out of work and from those new to the workforce or hold on to the ones they have.

Some prospective employees are part of the so-called “hidden workforce,” as identified by Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller in March 3 remarks to business leaders during the Springfield Business Development Corp.’s annual meeting.

Fuller said over 27 million people are eager to work but are being filtered out by automated application screening systems. These include caregivers of children or older adults, veterans, people with mental health challenges, those previously incarcerated and those with a history of substance addiction.

Help wanted
In the seven-county area that includes Greene, the Ozark Region Missouri Job Center is working multiple angles to help with workforce attraction from the slim slice of the employment pie.

Sally Payne, the city’s director of workforce development, said a variety of training programs are offered through the Missouri Job Center.

Through the $3 million U.S. Department of Labor About Persons with Past Legal Issues Pathway Grant, companies that hire and train workers newly released from prison can be reimbursed for some of their wages.

New veterans are eligible for the Show Me Heroes on-the-job training program, which also pays half of their wages during training.

SkillUp offers short-term training scholarships and employment help for people who receive federal food benefits. And Green for Greene offers free five-week certification programs for environmental careers.

The Job Center also focuses on high school and elementary students who are not yet part of the employment picture. These include Build My Future, an event which encourages high schoolers to explore careers in construction; iCreate, which does the same for students interested in manufacturing; and the Discover Healthcare program, for teens thinking about working in the medical field.

“Those initiatives are kind of a little cherry on top of the cake of what we do,” she said. “You never know who’s going to walk away with their lives changed.”

Payne said she and her team connect workers with jobs, with the support of the community.

“We’re doing some really innovative, forward-thinking work,” she said. “I like to think we’re no longer reacting; now we’re being proactive.”

Finders keepers
One way employers are trying to hold on to the workers they have is through raises.

Organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry released a study in February showing most companies plan to increase salaries in 2022. Of more than 5,000 participants in 116 countries, 44% said all of their employees will receive an increase, and the median level of planned increases in the U.S. is 3.5%.

Much of that increase is subsumed by inflation, now at a 40-year high, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports that on average, replacement of an employee costs six to nine months of that worker’s salary. That means for a worker making $60,000 annually, recruiting and training costs run $30,000-$45,000 – and skimping on recruiting costs is not recommended, as a mis-hire can be even more costly.


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