How to find reliable workers, and keep them

With unemployment rates at less than 5% for the county, it’s much harder to find employees

Working around a table
Kevin Witte
KEVIN WITTE Clark College

At Clark College’s Economic and Community Development (ECD), we meet with a wide range of employers every year. Over this past year, the overwhelming issue our clients face is that they simply can’t find reliable workers — and if they find them, they often leave after only a short time.

With unemployment rates at less than 5% for Clark County, it’s not surprising it is much harder to find employees now than it was during the recession — and, no, the labor market is not expected to grow in a meaningful way in the near future.

Simple demographics show that the country’s trend toward a historically low birth rate equals fewer employees in the next generation. With all that said, there are some positive steps you can take to help staff your organization.

The easiest way to keep your workforce strong is to not lose the good employees you already have. Competitive pay is important, but basing retention on pay alone can easily lead to bidding wars where employees jump to another employer for an extra dollar an hour. The most productive approach is simply to invest in your employees’ skills and development. Here at Clark College ECD, we regularly help employers create customized trainings for their employees on everything from interpersonal communications to LEAN manufacturing. They report back that these trainings were well worth the investment, as they helped build not just their workforce’s skill set, but also their pride in their jobs and their team cohesion.

Work with your education system. Partner with your K-12 system, community college, university or union hall, depending on your needs. This can take many forms. Be a guest speaker in a class, so that students and instructors get to know your company. Hiring interns is a great way to see a potential employee in action. Another option is to join a program advisory board where you have input into programs and build a relationship with the instructors. Many programs have capstone projects near the end of the year; participating in those events can help you get a look at some of the new talent that is about to graduate. Not sure where to start? At Clark College, a great entry point is our Career Services department at 360-992-2902.

Sponsor a student. A practice that is common in a number of countries, and growing in the United States, is to find a young person with the right aptitude and attitude and sponsor their education at a university, college, trade school or apprenticeship program, with the understanding the student will work for you after they are trained. Combined with a mentorship program this path tends to be very effective at developing loyal employees. If one works out the actual cost of hiring an employee (search, interview, onboarding, acculturation, time to performance, and retention), the cost of paying for your new employee’s education can have a positive payback.

Reach into our diverse communities to recruit talent. Our population is becoming increasingly diverse, and this trend will only increase. Nationally, almost half of post-millennials are from racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds. Yet many employers continue old hiring and recruitment practices that fail to attract this huge part of the labor market — or can even turn them away. This is an area where it is important to know the communities you want to recruit from, and to listen to their counsel. It takes time to build trust that you are a great employer who creates a welcoming environment for diverse employees, but it can make a big difference when you recruit. The more diversity one has in their organization, the more effective the organization tends to be at recruiting diverse talent. 

Recruit veterans for your organizations. Many of the skills that our veterans learned serving our country have a direct correlation to the skills needed in civilian jobs. Added to the technical skills they have learned is the experience veterans have of working in a large organization and honing skills around teamwork and delivering on objectives. Many of our colleges and universities — including Clark College — have veterans’ centers, which are a great place to connect with potential new employees.

If you work in a male-dominated field or company, look to recruit more women. Women currently account for nearly half the workforce, and hold 57% of bachelor’s degrees and 59% of master’s degrees. Is your message resonating with women? Does the culture of your company set women up for success?

College and business partnerships are key. Clark College works with a long list of employers to identify strategies that benefit both the student and the company. We offer onsite trainings, workshops and partnership opportunities. We encourage anyone with questions or ideas to contact our Clark College Economic and Community Development at 360-992-2939.

Our mission as a college is to serve our community by helping students achieve their goals. To do that, we need to partner with businesses to make sure programs and services match up with business needs so that, together, we can develop the skilled workers who are needed in today’s marketplace.

Kevin Witte is vice president of Economic & Community Development at Clark College.

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