News & Features

An Employment-Seeker’s Market

Employers try to attract employees in a post-summer job market as hundreds of jobs remain open in Flathead County

The summer rush is over in the Flathead, with the tourists largely gone from the valley, taking with them the seasonal jobs that spring up to support the large influx of visitors.

And normally, that would mean a mirrored increase in people looking for steady work after those seasonal positions button up for the year.

But that’s just not the case this year.

“We are listing 923 job openings,” Laura Gardner, manager at the Kalispell Job Service office, said last week. “The summer seasonal kind of things are the ones that are kind of dropping off, but it’s still pretty amazing.”

Coupled with a 3.9 percent unemployment rate in August – both in Flathead County and statewide – Gardner said many employers are having trouble filling open jobs even after the summer seasonal slowdown, leading to many of them calling for a job fair.

A lack of a labor force is a statewide issue; according to predictions by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Montana is facing a workforce shortage that will put the unemployment rate below 2 percent by 2025.

The Kalispell Job Service hosted an autumn job fair on Oct. 12 at the Gateway Community Center, hoping to lure candidates with updated resumes to stop by the tables of at least 80 employers seeking employees.

“We always have our spring job fair and that’s for the employers gearing up for summer hiring,” Gardner said. “Going into fall we know the summer seasonal jobs aren’t there so to have 80 employers this time of year is a big number. What we were hearing from employers was, ‘We would really like a job fair this fall.’”

Job openings in Flathead County run the gamut, from the service industry to health care to education to manufacturing. Gardner said the 3.9 percent unemployment rate in August, which followed similar rates in June and July, is “unbelievable,” and that it’s the lowest she’s seen since August 2008.

“I would venture to say there’s not a lot of discouraged workers out there right now,” Gardner said.

With such a tight labor market, Gardner said the Job Service, which is part of the Department of Labor and Industry, is advising employers to broaden their scope when it comes to searching for workers.

This would include checking into the older workforce, into the youth of high school students, considering people with felony convictions, and other job-seeker pools, she said.

Willingness to train and apprentice is also a plus for employers trying to attract candidates.

“Employers do need to look at investing in their workforce and growing their own,” Gardner said.

Mary Skalsky of Trails West Bank echoed this sentiment while waiting to chat with prospective workers at the job fair, noting that it can be easier to build up an employee’s skills and understanding of the job from the ground up.

She also said financial institutions all do business a little differently, so being able to mold new employees is valuable.

And though they don’t offer a hiring bonus to join, Skalsky said there’s impetus to join on in a teller position because the bank hires from within, with plenty of room to evolve.

Eric Vardell, director of human resources for Immanuel Lutheran Communities, said his organization has anywhere from eight to 20 open positions at any one time, and if he walked out of the job fair with one or two solid conversations and resumes, he’d consider it “a success.”

Xanterra, the concessioner operating lodging, retail, transportation, and food and drink within Glacier National Park, saw activity at their job fair table, despite only being able to offer seasonal positions for next year.

“We’ve been busy this whole time,” said Audrey Bruno, human resources coordinator for the company.

Other employers used various tactics to attract the job seekers to their tables, such as gift card or iPad giveaways. Crystal Sachau, a recruiter for WaterStreet Company in Kalispell, said that along with a gift-card opportunity, her strategy was to engage with people as they wandered past the table.

“We’re just grabbing them as they come by,” she said. “I’ve gotten some really good resumes, I’m really pleased.”

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