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attracting craft labor | A fabricator working on a metal piece in protective gear
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This column by Richard Lively was originally published online by Lehigh Valley Business on December 2, 2019.

“I can’t find employees to fill these jobs.”

This is a compliant you hear from employers a lot these days. And, they aren’t imagining things—it is really hard to find experienced workers right now.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported earlier this year that are now more open jobs than people seeking work in nearly every industry. Some industries have been hit harder than others. In particular, there are shortages impacting skilled positions, such as machinists, operators, engineers and especially craft workers.

A whopping 80 percent of construction firms in the United States report that they are having real difficulties filling hourly craft positions, which make up the bulk of the construction workforce. Those were the findings of a massive industry-wide survey published in August by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), in collaboration with Autodesk.

Leaders in various industries who rely on skilled craftsmen are taking a range of steps to address the labor shortage, and various government agencies are trying to assist those efforts. Only time will tell if these measures will help.

Here are some steps you can take to help your company attract the specialized talent you need right now.

Make sure you are offering competitive craft labor salaries.

Sometimes the old saying is true: you get what you pay for. If you aren’t compensating enough, chances are you aren’t going to attract quality employees in this job market. So, offer competitive salaries based on the market rates in your area for the positions you need filled.

Show them a great place to work.

Because great candidates can be choosier now, they are looking more closely than ever at what kind of work environment employers are offering. They don’t want a toxic workplace, they want a place where they can see themselves becoming part of the team and where they can grow. Your organization is being interviewed just as much as the candidates are these days, so employee satisfaction needs to be part of your long-term recruiting and retention strategy.

Offer meaningful perks that job seekers want.

This could be in the form of more flexible scheduling options, free training towards certifications, discounted gym memberships or any benefit that has quality-of-life value to it. Even something as simple as giving employees rotating shares of season tickets to the IronPigs or Phantoms could be a benefit that resonates with candidates and distinguishes your company from the competition.

Consider offering longer assignments.

Longer assignments can help retain project-based craft workers. In fact, a job paying slightly less than the competition, but offering a lot of overtime, can really bring in quality repeat employees. That’s because the biggest issue outside of competitive wages for craft workers is the length of time that someone will be employed. Take welders, for example. Good ones are very hard to find. If a quality welder can get more than the usual three-week to three-month job with your company and not have to look around to fill their schedule, that has a lot of value.

Whether you are in construction, manufacturing or another industry, the employee shortage can be a real concern. By overcoming these challenges, small and mid-sized businesses in the Lehigh Valley can also develop top-notch workplaces that not only attract quality candidates, but also help retain employees longer, with greater productivity.

Written by Richard Lively, partner and Vice President of HR Consulting Services, with Margo Trott Collins, Senior Consultant, Employer Branding & Digital Content.