Getting Creative

Tight labor markets mean companies must find new ways to attract employees

When Casa de Corazón needed some new teachers to supplement the staff at its growing Spanish-immersion child care and preschool program, the company fought against more than just a tight labor market.

It not only needed to find people qualified as licensed lead teachers, but they also must speak Spanish.

So, Casa de Corazón petitioned the government to become a Q Cultural Exchange program, which allows it to sponsor work visas for international candidates. To receive that status, the company had to prove it was providing a cultural learning experience for participants.


The company submitted its application in the spring of 2017.

It was approved in May and has already brought in six teachers through the program, says Natalie Standridge, executive director.

While it’s not perfectly ideal in the sense that those who arrive through the program are only allowed to work for 15 months and then spend a month doing other non-work activities before they must go back home for at least a year, Standridge says it works fine because that timeframe allows them to teach through an entire year of a student’s education cycle. And it gives those students access to teachers who live in the culture about which they are learning.

We love to have teachers stay with us three, five, seven years and we have several of those,” she says.

“However, standard turnover in the early childhood education field is a year. So, at 15 months you are already better than the average. So, we decided it was worth it to do that.”

Standridge learned about the option from her attorney, though she first heard about it from several international applicants who found Casa de Corazón and inquired about whether the company sponsored visas.

“We’re like, ‘what is this visa sponsorship that people abroad know about that we are not doing,’” she says. “Maybe we need to think outside the box and start exploring that.”

Tight market requires “thinking outside the box”

While not everyone will have available to them an international exchange program to help them find employees, all companies can — and these days must — look for new ways to attract talent. According to Oriane Casale, assistant director of the labor market information office at Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 2001. The nationwide rate is 4.4 percent.

“We’re pretty low here,” Casale says.

Minnesota and the U.S. have been adding jobs since 2011 and we’re in one of the longest post-recession build-ups in state history, Casale says. Age demographics are also playing a role. Baby-boomers are retiring and the incoming workforce is smaller than the retiring generation, she adds.

“We’re just looking at a much-reduced labor force growth,” she says.

That means it’s a worker’s market. Employers are having a hard time filling jobs — as evidenced by the record 97,000 job vacancies seen in the fourth quarter of 2016 — and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

“This is going to be the new norm for the next 15 years or so,” Casale says.

One thing employers may want to consider, she says, is considering the quality of jobs they are trying to fill. In this market, making a job enticing in any way possible is a good strategy.

“If they can take two part-time jobs and make one full-time job, and make that job much more attractive to workers, they will probably be able to recruit more easily and they’ll probably be able to recruit a higher quality of worker,” Casale says. “In a tight labor market, the quality of the job makes a lot of difference.”

One other thing to keep in mind:

Employers need to know that potential employees have the advantage right now and they might come asking for more than you’d initially planned to offer.

“If you’re applying for a McDonald’s job and you can tell the employer ‘I’m going to show up for every shift you give me, I’m going to show up on time, I’m going to show up with a smile on my face, I’m going to show up ready for work — and I want 50 cents more per hour’ — I think that employer is going to have to consider it,” she says.

Not the “same old” manufacturing job

With those labor stats in mind, it’s important for companies to be proactive in keeping an eye out for talented people before they actually have a need. Operating plans are more frequently integrating workforce succession planning and companies are recognizing the need to recruit more frequently, says Bob Kill, president and CEO of Enterprise Minnesota, which serves as a voice for Minnesota’s manufacturing industry.

With the workforce aging, the issue has more than doubled in importance for manufacturing companies in recent years, according to the organization’s annual survey.

“Succession planning is often talked about at the executive level,” he says. “Sometimes it is more important to do it at the professional level and the manufacturing floor level.”

One thing manufacturing firms should keep in mind as a selling point,

Kill says, is that with improving technology and more complex jobs out there, they can market the profession as being home for more attractive careers than ever before.

Some companies are developing leadership academies, or mentorship programs, allowing machinists who want to advance to work their way to higher-level jobs. Others have found ways to upgrade facilities with more natural light and modern looks. Companies need to be flexible and willing to change for the modern worker.

“The smart ones have realized we have to do more around visibility so that we have a culture that is more attractive to people,

either to change jobs and join us, stay with us a bit longer or attract young people,” he says. “Part of recruiting is thinking about this strategically and thinking about it the way young people think about it versus the way us baby boomers might think about it.”

Bringing flexibility and new age benefits

Winona-based Minnesota Metal Products suffered a couple lean years and lost some employees in 2015 and 2016, but resumed hiring again late last year and has added 10 new employees, says Joe Plunger, CEO.

He says the company has tweaked its benefits. For example, it moved up eligibility for vacation time from one year to six months, to be more attractive to potential candidates.

“The younger generation looks more critically at work-life balance,

so we’ve installed an earlier eligibility for vacations to give them an opportunity to get some time out,” Plunger says.

Implementing a referral bonus also led to three new hires. Any employee that makes a referral receives a $100 bonus if the new person makes 30 days and another $200 after three months.

Then, due to a recommendation received in a peer council meeting, Plunger says the company shifted its advertising for job openings from local shoppers and newspapers to the website Indeed.com.

“It seems to be a site that is frequented, I suppose, by the millennials,” he says. “For our entry level work that’s a lot of the audience we’re dealing with. For my last several hires, it’s been very successful. The responses are quick and there have been more responses than we ultimately needed for employees.”

Another manufacturer, Permac Industries Inc.,

recently agreed to help a young man pay the tuition for his skills-based educational program. He was a high school graduate who didn’t want to go to college but who wanted a career, not just a job.

“Our vice president took him to two different schools, South Central and Dunwoody college, to show him the opportunities,” says Darlene Miller, owner, president and CEO at Permac.

Miller sits on the foundation for the Precision Machined Products Association to help schools make sure students are getting the training they need and to let them know the jobs can be viable careers.

The company also has an employee profit plan through which individuals can earn bonuses based on individual and team performance, and employee-protégé programs so new hires can learn the ropes.

“It’s very hard to find the talent we need,” Miller says. “It’s not the same kind of job you had five or even two years ago. Technology changes so quickly. Everything is computerized. We need the smartest and the brightest in math skills. … We have equipment that is a half-a-million, a million dollars. We’re not going to put someone out there to push buttons.”

Using Kolbe Index for measuring the fit

With companies fighting for supreme talent, those who hire workers also need to find ways to streamline their recruiting process so they don’t lose qualified workers who are interested in working for them. Some firms have started asking candidates to take a Kolbe Index.

Kolbe is different than other indexes on the market because it’s all about how you take action. Kolbe and its research partners have been able to prove that this intuition is consistent over time, says Erin Werde, president of Affiance Coaching Inc.

“It’s about that gut, it’s all about that innate drive that we often times don’t label,” she adds.

Werde says she encourages companies to look at three things when they are considering a candidate: the cognitive side and the experience they bring to the position; the affective side, such as motivation; and the Kolbe piece — do they have the drive expected by the company.

“It really helps define which candidates we really want to go after, what candidates are we willing to increase compensation for, which candidates are we really holding out for,” she says.

It also helps weed out candidates that would not be a good fit and it can be done quickly, Werde adds.

“I can work with a client upfront to help them articulate what they are looking for in a position,” she says. “Once they have candidates in the pipeline, the only additional step is having them take a Kolbe index, which ideally should take no more than 20 minutes. I don’t see it adding on a great deal of time to the candidate’s investment.”

Bringing in a search firm

Another option for small- and mid-sized employers is engaging a search firm. Search firms aren’t just for large employers hiring executives SkyWater Search Partners does most of its work in the small-to-mid-sized client realm. The company fills between 250 and 300 positions across several industries each year.

A lot of those clients reach out because they don’t have internal recruiting and hiring personnel, says Kurt Rakos, partner.

“Many of them are very profitable, very successful, but at their size of business, it doesn’t make sense to hire a talent acquisition department,” he says. “We target those customers.”

Rakos says the firm has experienced two cycles of recession-to-full-employment. During the high-employment times, he says, searches become more difficult. Employees are typically happier during good economic times, so it is more difficult to pull them away from jobs. It’s also likely they already have made a job change or that their current employers are willing to pony up to keep them around.

Furthermore, he adds, while companies need to be thorough in vetting candidates, they must also be decisive, because quality potential hires probably have more than one opportunity right now.

“The candidate now has the leverage,” Rakos says. “They’re demanding more and there are less looking. If you have a crucial important position, not only should we be talking about all those variables, we should be talking about a fast, efficient successful time frame to make sure you are checking all the boxes, but you’re not losing the candidates to other companies who can move faster.”

Small businesses, Rakos says, often have about six-to-nine-week-windows where they try to fill important, well paying, mid-level positions they themselves open before they start looking for a backup plan. Those plans often include search firms.

“They look at it as ‘now I have to make that investment,’” he adds. “It’s like if I don’t get someone in that role we’re losing out. We’re losing out on market share, we’re losing out on opportunity.”

Tapping into chambers can help

Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, says workforce challenges are the number one issue facing Minnesota businesses.

He’s also hearing employers say those entering the workforce aren’t as ready to work as they were in the past.

“That’s a recipe for a worker shortage,” Blazar says.

The chamber is trying to help.

Some members are asking their long-time workers to stick around past the traditional retirement age until they are 70 and must start collecting Social Security. Others have become more flexible about letting employees work from home.

And still others are dipping into different talent pools — actively seeking out immigrants, people who have been incarcerated or people with disabilities with more frequency.

“Employers understand this trend is around for a while,” he says. “They’re adapting. Many are adapting quickly.”

The Chamber itself is pitching in. In conjunction with RealTime Talent, it launched MN Job Match, which uses statistically validated questions to match talent to jobs. Posting jobs costs $39 for 30 days of scoring, screening and stack-ranking candidates, according to the chamber. It’s been used in other states, including Ohio and Michigan, Blazar says, and companies have reported getting less conventional applicants that they’ve ended up hiring.

“It makes matches where other systems — other online job boards — would not,” Blazar says. “It’s another tool.”


Bill Blazar, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce: 612.292.4658; bblazar@mnchamber.com;

Oriane Casale, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development: 651.259.7383;
oriane.casale@state.mn.us; www.mngov/deed.

Bob Kill, Enterprise Minnesota: 612.455.4208;

Darlene Miller, Permac Industries Inc.: 952.894.7231; dmiller@permacindustries.com;

Joe Plunger, Midwest Metal Products: 507.452.7231; joe@midwestmetalproducts.com;

Kurt Rakos, SkyWater Search: 952.767.9000;

Natalie Standridge, Casa de Corazón: 763.416.3992; natalie@casaearlylearning.com;

Erin Werde, Affiance Coaching Inc.: 952.253.2586; erin@affiancecoaching.com;

Andrew Tellijohn

Managing Editor