If you have ventured into a store, restaurant or other place of business lately (and almost all of us have), you’ve no doubt encountered more than a few “help wanted” signs. Despite record high levels of unemployment, employers are struggling to fill open positions as the economy recovers from the effects of COVID-19. The problem is particularly acute in the restaurant and retail industries, which have traditionally offered their employees low wages and minimal if any benefits. However, there are relatively few businesses that have not been impacted, and the ground transportation industry is certainly no exception.

Long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, transportation companies were struggling to attract and retain drivers. Now, they must contend with a shortage of back-office personnel such as reservationists, dispatchers and clerical employees as well.

Many employers have blamed the labor shortage on the enhanced unemployment benefits that were made available during the pandemic, and to a certain extent that is true. A worker with a low-wage entry level job is oftentimes financially better off staying home than working, at least for now (these benefits will not last forever). However, there are other reasons for the shortage of employees. Fear of catching the virus is obviously a factor, particularly for workers in poor health, but so too are concerns about things such as childcare expenses. For some parents, it does not make financial sense to work if childcare expenses exceed wages.

Quality of life is yet another concern, and it’s a major one for many in the job market. During the pandemic, many workers used the free time they suddenly had as a result of business closures and layoffs to reflect upon what they considered to be most important in their lives. Many concluded the job they had (or the one they just lost) came in lower on their list than things like health, family and their own personal happiness. These are the same reasons large numbers of workers have opted not to return to their prior jobs, and to instead take time off, switch careers, start their own businesses, or retire.

The shortage of workers has created a job-seeker’s market; one to which employers must adapt if they are going to fulfill their labor needs in the near future. Here are some strategies for attracting and retaining the employees you need to keep your business running.

Use Effective Methods to Attract Candidates: In the past, advertising in the local paper may have been all that was necessary to fill open positions.  However, in a highly competitive market such as the one we’re currently experiencing, you may find that the “tried and true” methods used in the past no longer work. Consider alternatives, such as posting on job boards, advertising on the radio, asking local businesses for permission to leave/post flyers, attend job fairs, contact your local department of labor, contact the career services of your local college, implement a referral program, and expand your social media presence. If you don’t already have a “career opportunities” section on your website, we recommend you create one. We also recommend that you offer remote interviews – they save everyone a lot of time.

“Sell” The Position to Candidates: Many job postings simply list expectations and qualifications for the employee they’re seeking. You wouldn’t just throw up a website stating that you provide car service and expect the calls to start rolling in, would you? Your website undoubtedly touts all of the things that are great about your company – the professionalism of your drivers, the on-time service you provide, the clean and comfortable ride customers can expect. A similar approach is needed when it comes to recruiting employees. You need to tell them all of the great things about working for your company, including how employee contributions are recognized and rewarded, and about the positive work environment you offer. Make sure to also mention the COVID precautions you’ve enacted. Employees nowadays are looking for more than just a good wage, so you need to convey to them why they should consider working for your company, as opposed to any of the many others seeking their talent. If you have a career opportunities page on your website, give thought to adding some smiling photos of some of your long-time staff members, along with a brief description of what they do, how long they’ve been with the company, and why they love their jobs.

Increased Pay and Perks: Employers that want to attract new employees in a highly competitive labor market need to offer competitive compensation. In addition to offering higher starting wages, many employers are sweetening the pot by offering additional paid holidays and/or time off, sign-on bonuses payable after the employee has completed a probationary period, performance bonuses, referral fees for existing employees who refer a new worker, flexible and/or reduced schedules, and other incentives. Don’t forget to include your current employees as well. Overworked, unhappy and/or poorly compensated employees have lots of other options available to them.

Offer Work-From-Home Opportunities: Many employees forced to work remotely during the pandemic have found they prefer it over traditional office work. There is no commuting time or related expense. There is a reduced risk of exposure to COVID. The employee can dress as he or she pleases and save money by eating lunch at home. And, if the employee has young children they can take care of their kids while they work, and save childcare expenses as well. While many employers are concerned that employees working from home will be distracted and/or goof off, statistically, remote employees actually tend to be more productive, and they’re oftentimes more appreciative of and loyal to their job. Consider offering remote opportunities for work that can be done remotely (such as telephone operators).

Evaluate Expectations and Requirements: It makes sense to evaluate employment criteria and eliminate any unnecessary ones. A requirement, for example, that a reservationist have a high school diploma is probably unnecessary so long as the individual can accurately take and enter reservations. In comparison, a requirement that reservationists be fluent in English should not be waived if most of your customers speak that language.

While the labor shortage will inevitably come to an end, for now employees have the upper hand when it comes to demanding better wages and working conditions. Like everything else about the pandemic, the key to successfully navigating around this situation is to remain flexible and think outside the box.

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Article by Lawrence I. Cohen

Laurence I. Cohen is a partner with Pike, Tuch & Cohen, LLP, a Bellmore, NY-based law firm.

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