For many businesses, finding workers is Job No. 1
Filling vacancies is an ongoing effort for human resources departments
By Patrick Redmond | KPC News - The News Sun
It used to be said that driving past large manufacturing plants in the area and seeing “Help wanted” signs posted in their front yards was a good problem to have.
Nowadays, many of those “Help wanted” signs are heavily faded by the sun after sitting out for so long. With so many different businesses still trying to find workers, it’s no longer a good problem to have.
“We’re beyond the point where this is a good problem to have. It’s a serious problem now,” said Ryne Krock, president and CEO of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit county-funded organization charged with helping to grow the local economy.
Krock said the data he and other economic development professionals see coming across their computer screens these days can sometimes be troubling. More and more people are preparing to exit the workforce, as the tail end of the baby boomer generation approaches retirement age.
The problem isn’t confined to LaGrange County or northern Indiana. Companies across Indiana and throughout the nation report they’re facing the same problem.
“We have lots of jobs, and we don’t don’t have people to fill those jobs for many different reasons,” said Rick Sherck, executive director of the Noble County Economic Development Corp. “Problem is, we need workers here and many, many other places across the U.S. are having the same problem.”
Indiana’s December unemployment rate stood at 4 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2001, according to data from the state Department of Workforce Development. That might represent what economists sometimes refer to as the “natural” unemployment level, said Heydayeh Samavati, a professor of economics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Natural unemployment is defined as the natural and lowest level of unemployment a regional economy can reach without the economy being adversary affected, he said.
Locally, Department of Workforce Development statistics show the four-county area — LaGrange, Steuben, Noble and DeKalb — had a nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.36 percent for December. That translates to roughly 2,700 people in the four counties who are looking for employment.
The labor force participation rate for December was more than 67 percent, according to the DWD. More than half of those not in the labor force are retired, in school or are disabled, which means at least 8 percent of the local population could be available for employment.
Several area companies report they’ve been on a two- or three-year-long mission to fill their available openings, with little or limited success. At some businesses, human resources personnel have been working almost nonstop to not only find new employees but ensure the employees they do have stick around.
Dee Davis, head of the human resources department at Miller Poultry in Orland, said she regularly talks with current employees, making sure she knows what they want in a job.
“Of course, everybody wants to make good wages and benefits, but they tell us they also want jobs that can they can grow with,” she said.
Miller Poultry purchased several “Help wanted” billboards around the area, hoping to reach potential new employees.
Davis said finding new employees often can be key to a company’s future.
“If we want growth, hiring new people enables us,” she added. “So, unless we can bring in people from other areas, it’s very hard to grow like we want to.”
Some Indiana companies have gone to what might seem like extraordinary measures to find the workers they need. Businesses in Plainfield announced they will create a new public transportation line to ferry workers from the western side of Marion County to Plainfield, a distance of about 19 miles.
The businesses have rallied to create an economic improvement district to pay for the new commuter line. Hendricks County Economic Development Partnership research showed there were more than 2,400 unfilled jobs in the Plainfield area in 2015.
The state of Indiana is working to increase the number of work-ready employees coming out of high school. It joined ranks with other states in creating the Jobs for America’s Graduates program designed to prevent at-risk students from dropping out. The program provides work-based learning and adult mentoring, as well as follow-up counseling after graduation, according to the Department of Workforce Development, which provides funding for it.
A second program, SkillUp, provides grant funding for training programs across the state.
Davis said her department is now reaching out to communities outside of Steuben County, hoping to find more people interested in worked at Miller Poultry.
“We’re just trying to tell our story, and we want people to want to work for us,” she said.