Amid record low unemployment it’s hard to find employees in Montana, not just the Flathead Valley. Still, the work is ongoing locally to promote strategies that can help businesses keep the employees they already have.
Montana’s unemployment rate is the fifth-lowest in the nation, dropping from 2.7% in January to 2.6% in February, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Flathead County’s unemployment rate is slightly higher at 3.8%.
John Caldwell, a workforce consultant with the state Department of Labor’s Job Service Kalispell Workforce Service Division, said the situation is such that employers are beginning to understand increasingly how important it is to keep the people they have, because of how few people are unemployed and looking for work.
“Employers are starting to really realize that when they lose somebody it’s hard to backfill that position. We always hear about the cost of turnover, right? And the cost of turnover is very high, especially these days,” Caldwell said.
A recent Pew Research Center survey determined low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work were all among the top reasons people quit their jobs over the last year. The same Pew survey found that the people who quit and are now working somewhere else are more likely than not to say their new job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement, more work-life balance, and more flexibility.
Lorraine Clarno, the president and CEO of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, said that more than a decade ago there was already anticipation that growing retirement among the Boomer generation, at a rate of about 15,000 retirees a day by 2018 or 2019, was going to affect the labor market.
“What we didn’t know is at the same time we would have a global pandemic that just has really transformed how people understand what’s important to them, and some folks have really adjusted lifestyles and all kinds of things on top of it,” she said, adding that the difficulty in finding employees isn’t a problem that will go away anytime soon.
Clarno and Caldwell both mentioned company culture as an important factor in retention for businesses. In Caldwell’s eyes, culture is a complicated thing to develop.
“That is not an overnight process,” he said. “That’s basically building a good brand, and that will help with your recruiting efforts as well.”
He said it’s the number one thing he talks about in his effort to help educate businesses and offer guidance. Some strategies to building a strong company culture that can help with employee retention include building a recognition program for employees, and also encouraging open lines of communication, according to Caldwell.
“I think any employer in the Flathead or elsewhere, if they are not taking a deep dive into all things culture and benefits, they’re really going to miss out,” Clarno echoed. She views culture as a combination of things that can include offering employees a different menu of benefits, and flexible work choices including remote work. A continuous feedback loop is also something that’s increasingly important to employees, according to Clarno.
On a larger scale there are local businesses like Nomad Global Communication Solutions, which specializes in voice, video, and data communication technology and employs more than 100 people. Nomad has a culture team working on the issue, and the business has openly shared some of the strategies they are utilizing to retain employees, which include gear deals, consistent feedback and regular wage increases.
Dorothy Meyer, a workforce development and community outreach specialist for Nomad, has been in her role with the company for about six months. In that timespan, she’s learned that employers need to be able to place themselves in the employees’ shoes to gain a better understanding of what it is they’re looking for. In the Flathead Valley, for instance, that includes thinking through issues like housing and childcare and how the company can help.
Meyer has spoken on the topic at chamber of commerce events in Kalispell and Evergreen in the last two months. When Nomad was initially approached by the Kalispell chamber, there was some reluctance that the company might be tipping their hand. However, they ultimately decided that sharing their strategies is in alignment with the company’s core values.
“If we’re able to help another business struggling with these same issues that we have, then we’re better off because we’re doing the right thing,” she said.
Getting those conversations started, and out in the open, is part of how Clarno sees the chamber helping solve a problem that it can’t solve on its own and that businesses can’t ignore.
“Remaining stagnant and doing what you’ve always done is not going to work,” she said.
For more tips on recruitment and retention strategies for Flathead Valley businesses Job Service Kalispell has put together flyers that include links to additional resources. For retention strategies click here. For recruitment strategies click here.
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