Where are the workers?

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2006

With the Sarasota-Manatee unemployment rate hovering at 2.3 percent, some companies say finding good employees has become mission impossible.

"Companies are shutting down production lines because there's no help," says Tony Newton, project manager of Jobs Employment and Training Centers (ETC), which offers free employment counseling, job training and job postings for both employers and job seekers. At a recent job fair at Robarts Arena in Sarasota, 80 companies showed up with stacks of applications but found few takers.

"Employers found the traffic a little light to say the least," says Newton. "It's more of the same of what I've been seeing for months."

To find dependable help, Newton says, employers now have to be creative and flexible and adopt a "mindset of tradeoffs." "The jigsaw comes together but it comes together in not necessarily the normal way," he says. He offers the following tips to hire workers in a tight labor market.

1. Post job ads on free sites such as, and "Most of the businesses register their jobs electronically," Newton says. It's an easy process, and jobs and résumés are categorized by standard codes. "It gives you an opportunity to see who else is out there in your industry," he adds.

2. Make sure your benefits and wages are competitive. The right person is probably working for someone else. "You can't regenerate another population of job seekers out of thin air," says Newton. "You have to entice somebody else's employees to come to work for you."

Newton says that doesn't mean "stealing" individual employees from competitors, but making sure that you have an attractive salary and benefit package. Consider a sign-on bonus, a bonus for exceeding goals, flexible hours and job sharing.

3. Train existing employees and promote them. "Determine what specific skills you need to be taught within your company," Newton says. "What you're doing is moving people up within your company." This allows you to hire people with fewer credentials for entry-level jobs and train them for positions of greater responsibility and skill. Jobs ETC provides worker training through Manatee Community College and area trade schools.

4. Consider older workers. "There's a lot of talent out there," says Newton. Experienced workers may even be willing to work for entry-level pay if there are enough other incentives. "My wife, for example, will be more than happy to come to work for you, but she's only going to want to work 30 hours a week," says Newton. "And come Thanksgiving time, she's going to take off to see the grandkids."

5. Hire non-English speakers and pay for language classes. "You're talking about folks who will work, and they'll be there," Newton says. "You can count on them. All you have to do is bridge the gap of understanding." Newton says that can mean hiring someone who is bilingual or teaching managers how to speak workplace Spanish so they understand rudimentary words. "Understanding grows over time, but it's a beginning," Newton says.

6. Offer internships both paid and unpaid. "Offer high school seniors an opportunity to learn with the promise of a job at the end," Newton says. "Do the same for college kids during the summer time."

7. Offer job sharing and flexible hours. "Job sharing is particularly attractive when you're dealing with senior citizens," Newton says. "They don't want to work full time." Jobs that don't require as much continuity, such as drivers or clerical workers, are ideal for job sharing.

8. Cross-train employees so your work force is more flexible. "What you don't want to do is put yourself in a position of vulnerability," Newton says. If someone quits or is out because of an illness, you want to have workers who can fill in. "Don't get buckled because the ability to hire someone today just isn't there," Newton says.

9. Offer van pooling to bring workers in from outside the area. "It's difficult for folks making entry-level wages to live in the Sarasota-Manatee area," Newton says. "You can always negotiate how the money is going to work and when the day is going to start. You're providing transportation and they're not paying gas, and that will work out in some situations."

10. Strive to keep existing employees happy. Fine tune management and leadership within the company. Many people leave jobs because of a bad work environment and an abusive or incompetent boss.

"Strike a deal with a local gym and offer 50 percent off a membership," Newton says. "What you're trying to do is make the work place a fun place to come to, not just a place to get a paycheck." It also ensures that your employees aren't someone else's next hire.

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