If you’re a job seeker looking for a new opportunity with increased pay and a hybrid or flexible work schedule, there has not been a better time in recent years.
If you’re an employer, not so much. Employers, especially those in the manufacturing sector, are having to do some corporate soul searching to differentiate themselves to attract quality candidates from a shrinking pool of workers.
Tim Bleich, president of Vector Technical, which has been connecting companies to job candidates for 30 years, says the last two and a half years have made people a lot more self-reflective.
“They are looking at ‘what’s most important to me,’ and a lot of people are moving into better-paying positions and better career opportunities,” says Bleich, who works with a lot of manufacturing companies in the area. “When they polled the top reasons for voluntarily leaving a position, for Gen Z and millennials, the number one reason was growth opportunities; for baby boomers, the number one reason was better compensation.” Bleich notes that candidate flow and quality have improved significantly thanks to overdue wage increases.
It’s clearly an employees’ market, says Jim Levine, owner of Express Employment Professionals; he owns two of the area’s job placement offices and he’s doubled his staff and production between 2020 and 2021.
“There are a lot of things going on in terms of increased pay and benefits, signing bonuses and all kinds of things to attract people,” Levine says, adding that he has seen pay increase an average of 24%. “But from a recruiting perspective, it’s extremely challenging. We already saw the handwriting on the wall of a smaller workforce and the shortage of skilled trades. The pandemic definitely exacerbated that situation, and there’s a number of people that, for a variety of reasons, are not willing or not able to return to the workforce.”
He said there are still a lot of challenges that are keeping people out of the workforce, most notably childcare. Not only have many childcare facilities closed as a result of the pandemic, people who are on the lower end of wage levels are staying home because they either don’t have or can’t afford childcare.
That being said, a lot of companies are responding to workforce development challenges by focusing on retention and providing flexibility. On the following pages, we’ll hear from five local businesswomen who are helping their companies stay successful while navigating the labor shortage.
Early Steps Learning Center
Retention and hiring bonuses, enhanced benefit packages and a 20% increase in wages across the board are some of the ways Early Steps Learning Center is trying to attract quality employees to its childcare centers.
Sharon Jackson, owner and CFO of the company, which has three centers — two in Richmond Heights and one in Wickliffe — says there isn’t a playbook or business model she can reference to help her navigate a pandemic.
“You have to kind of be creative, try to think out of the box and try to look at your business and say, ‘What is it that we value? What is our mission? What is it that we are trying to accomplish and what’s the best way to do it?’” says Jackson, who opened her business in 2003.
Her centers care for infants through school age, from six weeks to age 12. “We’ve been tremendously impacted from the standpoint of finding quality staff members who have the credentials to be able to work in our preschools and work with the children but at the same time trying to keep our current workforce in a place where they are motivated and feel as though they are being valued for basically hanging in there through the last two years,” Jackson says.
Early Steps Learning Centers serve about 160 children on a daily basis across the three childcare centers, nearly a 50% decrease compared to pre-pandemic numbers, and most of that is the result of a workforce shortage, Jackson says.
“We have wait lists for people trying to get in, but we don’t have additional staff to increase enrollment. We’ve also had to reduce our hours,” she says.
Jackson’s centers were open during the pandemic shutdown for frontline workers, so her staff never got a break. “Internally, the biggest impact is mentally trying to figure out a way that we can help our core staff with the stressful work environment, because if you have limited staff, you don’t have as much flexibility in scheduling and giving time off to use all their vacation time and personal days," she adds.
Stabilization grants from the state of Ohio earmarked for the childcare industry have helped. Those funds have been used toward recruitment, hiring, retention and to increase wages, as well as to offer signing bonuses.
“We also have a really nice benefit package that we offer our staff,” Jackson says. "We offer medical benefits, 401(k) plan with matching benefits, childcare discounts and scholarships for individuals who are interested in pursuing an early childhood education degree. As far as my current staff, we’ve paid them retention bonuses, we’ve increased our salaries significantly, we have paid vacations, and we’ve added holidays to our benefit package.”
One way Jackson has tried to reward her team is by celebrating a Hero’s Day, where she closed the center on a Friday and gave her 20 employees a paid day off as a celebration of their dedication and hard work.
“We’re the backbone of the workforce,” she says. “If there’s no childcare anywhere, then that’s going to place a hardship on people being able to actually go out to work.”
Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery
Unlike most in the service industry, Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery has an overload of applicants wanting to work at the popular breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Willoughby. The same goes for all the concepts owned by Meghan Wickline and her two brothers, including Mickey’s, a new ice cream shop, as well as Nora’s Public House and The Wild Goose.
“We are extremely lucky in all of our businesses as far as employees go,” says Wickline. “In each restaurant, we have at least a handful who have been with us for a long time, which, in this business, you’re very lucky if you have people like that.”
At Mickey’s, which just opened in April, Wickline employs mostly high school students, and at Fiona’s it’s most college-aged kids in the summer. She employs about 18 people at each spot.
“We always try to make the work atmosphere fun,” she says. “It’s very welcoming and inviting at all of our restaurants, and it’s kind of like your family when you come in. I think that’s why a lot of people are attracted to working there.”
She says her culture is built on appreciating her staff, whether it’s through a summer party, Christmas party, bonuses or offering all employees a 25% discount to the restaurants.
“And I always say please and thank you,” Wickline adds. “I do appreciate every single person who works for me, and I do appreciate every single thing that they bring to the business, because everybody brings something different.”
Building upon company values such as continuous improvement, the management team at API-Trucast and its sister companies of Apollo Products and Trucast have taken a holistic approach to attracting and retaining employees.
“We want everyone to feel like there’s room for improvement, and we’re going to help them achieve their goals for their own development path,” says Katy Baden, operations manager for API-Trucast and a member of the leadership team of its sister companies, which support the aerospace industry. Between the three operating companies, approximately 130 employees work among the four facilities on Hammond Parkway in Willoughby.
“Hiring has definitely been difficult. There are just more open jobs than there are working people,” she says, adding that they have spent quite a bit of time working with staffing agencies in the area to get the company name and job openings out there, as well as partnering with Auburn Career Center to bring in apprentices from their machining program.
The companies have raised their starting rates after undertaking a job analysis to make sure people were being paid appropriately for their skill levels. In addition, they added layers to their organizational structure, so each department now offers more room for growth and development.
They have identified key focuses such as work-life balance and flexible work schedules. They also recently implemented an employee assistance program offering services such as mental health counseling and financial counseling.
The company often hosts employee luncheons, bringing in food from popular eateries such as Barrio or Chick-Fil-A, or even picking up some pizzas.
“We just try and do things to let them know that we do realize how important they are, that we wouldn’t be here without them, and we really do appreciate everything that they’re doing,” Baden says.
Universal Metal Products
Partnering with Wickliffe High School, Universal Metal Products is building awareness about the jobs that are available at its metal stamping plants and has been successful in recruiting students to its workforce.
“It’s a great way to build talent and introduce kids through our local community around us,” says Kristin Jenkins, vice president, director of sales and diversity at Universal, whose main plant is in Wickliffe. “We also partner with vocational schools like Auburn, and we partner with AWT, the Alliance for Working Together, and also our local chamber of commerce to bring awareness of the manufacturing opportunities and what we do at Universal Products,” she says.
With a total workforce of approximately 300 people, Universal has engaged in recruitment efforts that have included job boards, TV, radio and corporate sponsorships — anything to attract potential new hires.
“Competition in the labor market is the highest it’s ever been. Hiring is one thing, but retaining people is another,” Jenkins says. “Some things that we focus on are continuous communication with our employees, performance reviews and compensation adjustments.”
Universal offers an attractive tool and die apprenticeship program and career paths for employees to build their skills so they find growth opportunities and stay with the company.
“We do have a lot of longevity here, and we have some employees who have been there 20, 30, even 40 years,” Jenkins says, adding that they have an employee referral program that rewards employees for helping to recruit new hires. “We try to make new hires feel welcome and give them the tools and resources to do their job,” Jenkins adds.
Opening a plant in Mexico was one way Process Technology has been able to combat the workforce crunch and labor shortage that continues to hamper its ability to deliver its highly technical products for the semiconductor, surface finishing and electroplating industries as quickly as it would like.
“I want to make all of our customers happy, which means I want to get them their product in a reasonable amount of time, and right now, it’s not a reasonable amount of time,” says Jody Richards, president and CEO of Process Technology, which serves additional industries such as flat panel display, nanotechnology, aerospace, automotive, aquaculture, biomedical and pharmaceutical.
The growing company, which employs about 300 people, has been in business more than 40 years and currently has its headquarters and R&D center in Willoughby. Other than in 2020, Process Technology has grown double digits year over year for the past six years. Richards expects to double sales this year, and then double them again next year.
“I need a lot of people,” she says. “I need to be more efficient.”
Recruitment efforts have included a banner at Great Lakes Mall, job boards, recruiting agencies, working with local schools, internship programs and referral incentives for current team members that pay out as much as $1,500.
“We are constantly checking on the current wage rate and making sure that we’re competitive,” Richards says. “We have extremely good benefits. Our individual and family pay for insurance is very low, and we have no copays. We offer some hybrid schedules and flexibility to those who work on the floor. We have tuition reimbursement programs, and we believe strongly in professional development and send people to all kinds of conferences.”
In addition to performance bonuses every year, Process Technology does a salary review every year and reviews every six months. They also have a 401(k) match dollar for dollar up to 6% and 11 paid holidays.
“We really do love to promote people from within, which goes back to continuing education and professional development,” Richards says. “These people already understand the company, and you know that culturally they’re a good fit, and it’s good for them because they get a new opportunity to learn something else and to grow their salary.”