Many employers in Minnesota have something in common: They’re struggling to find qualified workers, especially skilled workers, to fill job openings across industries.
It’s why the state has, among other things, poured millions toward career pathway programs — often created in partnership between private companies, government agencies and educational institutions — to help people connect to jobs.
For all that, though, workforce experts say there are plenty of other techniques that business leaders can use to find, train and retain qualified workers — without support from any public initiatives.
One often underappreciated issue for workers, and why some employers struggle to attract and retain employees, has to do with transportation, said John Kammeyer-Mueller, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
“I often hear that where employers are located and where eligible workers are located are not very close to one another,” he said. “So the actual physical location of some workplaces is not accessible to people, and especially if you’re thinking about places like Minnesota, where the public transportation system is not great.”
Amy Simon, a senior lecturer at the Carlson School, echoed the sentiment, saying that one of the reasons many organizations can’t attract good talent is simply the trouble some employees have getting there.
It’s the reason some companies are starting to create specialized transportation solutions for employees. Amazon — and its regular bus service from the Cedar-Riverside community to its fulfillment center in Shakopee — is the best-known example. But they’re not alone. Kammeyer-Mueller said a manufacturing company located just across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border is also planning to put together a transportation system that would transport workers from the Twin Cities metro area.
“They said they’ve got a lot of vacancies,” he said. “What they want to do is actually have their own bus service to drive people to and from work.”
Diversity has become another big issue for prospective employees. When it comes to seeking out workplaces, people naturally prefer being in an environment with people who look like them and can relate to them, Simon said, and job-seekers often visit the companies’ website to find information about diversity.
The problem, she said, is that many companies do a bad job at demonstrating how diverse their workforce is, even if company leaders say they value it.
Of course, the bigger issue that many employers face is actually making their companies more diverse. One way to do that, said Summit Academy OIC President and CEO Louis King, is by seeking out and forging relationships with diverse communities. That includes going into diverse neighborhoods and churches to advertise employment opportunities.
And once companies bring in diverse workers, King said, it’s crucial for them to be deliberate about integrating those employees into the organization, mentoring them and making them feel valued — a process that can lead to greater retention. “That’s not an easy task,” King said. “But employers have to acknowledge the fact that the way they’ve gone about getting people in the past is no longer going to work for them.”
Kammeyer-Mueller added that if employers want to do a better job of attracting and retaining skilled workers, they also have to provide career development programs that would help employees advance their profession, both in terms of pay and skills. “It seems like career advancement is one of the key things that’s missing here that you would see in countries where they have a lot better match between workforce skills and staffing.”
There are several other basic things that employers can do, but often don’t, to attract qualified workers, said Simon, including offering flexible scheduling to encourage work-life balance; creating company wellness programs; and implementing mentoring programs. But perhaps the most important thing an employer can do to get good workers is also the most obvious: giving people decent wages and benefits.
One industry that struggles to attract enough workers, says Simon, is health care services, especially home-health-aide occupations. And the reason isn’t a mystery. Those jobs often pay lower wages and lack benefits. “In that kind of industry, we can raise wages,” she said. “We can implement different kinds of training programs.”