YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dearing Compressor and Pump in Boardman has 188 employees today. Three years ago, employment stood at 250, its human resources supervisor, Danielle Lanterman, says.
Dearing would like to build its workforce back to around 200. So Lanterman is seeking candidates to fill positions as welders, fabricators and electricians as well as administrators and engineers.
“We have a long list of different openings that could be available to the right people that have the right skill set,” she says.
Trouble is, there’s stiff competition for workers. With the unemployment rate at 3.4%, according to a recent webinar in which Lanterman participated, everyone who wants to work is already working and the rest either can’t work or choose not to, she says.
“All of the skilled workers are currently working. They work for our partners, our vendors, our customers,” she says. Dearing’s main recruiting efforts have been through area trade schools. Since COVID-19, however, she hasn’t been able to return to any high schools.
The company recently began bringing in juniors and seniors from vocational schools to expose them to “real world manufacturing,” in hopes they will come to work during their summer breaks or after they graduate.
Dearing faces the same quandary as companies across all sectors: retaining and attracting workers in a tight labor market.
A sign planted in the ground outside the downtown Youngstown Mocha House expresses the shared frustration: “Help Wanted.”
In Boardman, Schwebel Baking Co. never had trouble recruiting workers, either for summer jobs or full-time work, says James Behmer, vice president of sales. That’s no longer the case. The bread company now has about 200 workers, about 45 short of where it wants to be.
“We are trying to put on a new shift and that would require an additional 30 people that we just don’t have,” Behmer says. “It’s been a continuing problem.”
The company has tried “everything that we could think of,” he says, including hiring through employment agencies, offering signing bonuses to new employees and retention and referral bonuses for incumbent workers. Even then, people weren’t coming in to apply. In some cases, new hires, after being trained, moved on to other employers.
So Schwebel “went right to the bottom line,” Behmer says, raising wages “significantly above the union contract rates,” with particular focus on increasing pay rates for critical jobs.
At Mercy Health, “What we’re seeing is really no different than many other industries,” says John Luellen, M.D., Lorain and Youngstown market president. “The labor market has changed.”
Demand is growing for registered and licensed practical nurses as well as professions that traditionally haven’t been “large areas of need for us,” Luellen says, such as laboratory, radiology, pharmacy and respiratory therapy professionals.
He attributes those shortages to a “decrease in the pipeline of students in those specialties” because of the pandemic. There also is demand for roles in support services such as environmental, dietary and patient transport.
Some openings resulted because people opted for early retirement. In other cases, people stepped down who had worked “well past their retirement timeframe,” Luellen says.
Some employees left out of concern they were putting their health and wellbeing at risk by working in a hospital during the pandemic.
Others left to pursue higher compensation from opportunities created by the pandemic, working for agencies that offered “a multiple” of the base rates. “What we’re seeing now is some of those individuals starting to come back to their former roles,” Luellen says.
“We’re pretty lucky when it comes to retaining our employees,” Dearing’s Lanterman says. “They know that we have the family atmosphere and our culture has not changed. I think that’s what holds people here.”
As Dearing’s business began to pick up in late 2021, the company lost a couple of employees because of what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation, she says.
“It wasn’t necessarily what we were doing. It was that they wanted to change their career path, or leave manufacturing and try a new industry,” she says.
Dearing “had a hard time” recruiting outside candidates to fill those vacancies, she continues. People weren’t applying online and trade shows hadn’t returned yet.
“That’s changed since then. We’re doing a lot better than we were in late 2021,” she says.
To retain employees, Dearing offers what Lanterman describes as a “strong, competitive benefits package” and compensation. A new paid time-off policy gives employees 80 hours in their first year, increasing to 120 in their second year, plus nine paid holidays. The company is a one-shift operation. Production employees work from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., or as late as 4:30 p.m. if they are assigned overtime.
“We have a lot of on-the-job training here,” Lanterman says. “When people come into Dearing, their skill might be base level. But by the time they’re here for five years, they’re an experienced person in whatever department they decide to go into.”
Dearing also hosts several company events, including an annual golf outing, and raffles tickets for events at the Covelli Centre and The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
Covelli Enterprises in Warren, which operates Panera Bread bakery-cafes in eight states, has 6,000 employees in Ohio although employment “ebbs and flows,” says Danielle Covelli, marketing director.
Staffing was a challenge up to a few months ago, particularly when COVID-19 was “raging everywhere,” she says. “It’s definitely getting a lot better.”
The Warren-based restaurant company is Panera’s largest franchisee. It also operates O’Charley’s and Dairy Queen restaurants.
“You have to keep your pay competitive in order to compete with all the other restaurants,” Covelli says.
“But it doesn’t even come down to pay,” she adds. “It comes down to whether people like their work environments. If they’re happy with the job they do every day. If they feel like they’re respected and valued. Then they’re going to want to stay.”
Kalli Georgalos, part-owner of the Youngstown Mocha House agrees. “Making it a positive work environment is very important,” she says.
The downtown restaurant, which opened over two years ago, has 25 employees – and hiring is a challenge.
“People will tell you they want to work and they don’t show up,” Georgalos says. “Or sometimes they’ll just come in for a day and quit.”
The restaurant has boosted wages to retain employees, she says. Potential employees are asked during their interviews what their goals are to see if they’re compatible with the restaurant’s objectives and if they’re a “good fit.”
MORE THAN WAGES, BENEFITS
Wages aren’t always the top consideration to attract employees, says Kara Wasser, founder and CEO of OhanaLink Technologies in Hermitage, Pa.
OhanaLink, which launched in 2020, recently hired a senior engineer who was considering an offer from Meta, Facebook’s parent, but decided the lifestyle he would have working at the technology startup would be more attractive.
“One of the most important things is work-life balance,” Wasser says, “and we have a work-from-anywhere policy.”
OhanaLink encourages people working at home to be with their children and doesn’t require them to be in daycare during working hours. Employees’ children are even encouraged to participate in virtual meetings.
OhanaLink also offers an open paid time-off policy and not just 10 paid days off per year – as long as they accomplish their tasks. Supervisor approval is required if an employee takes off more than two consecutive days.
“As long as your job is done, as long as you are performing, you can have as much time off as you need,” Wasser says. And the company allows employees to “work in the pockets of time that are more convenient for them” rather than a standard workday.
“We’re not always going to be competitive when it comes to dollars,” Wasser says. “I think our work-life balance takes precedence.”
Mercy Health aims to be market competitive in terms of compensation but “we don’t feel compensation, in and of itself, is what benefits our associates in the long term,” Luellen says.
To retain nurses who want greater compensation and flexibility in their work environments, Mercy created a “nursing flex team” that has three levels.
The first is for nurses willing to work in any unit in a Mercy hospital. The second is a marketflex team for nurses interested in working at Mercy hospitals or clinics within a given market. The third is for nurses who commit to being available to travel to more than 30 hospitals in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina.
Each level offers gradations in pay and requirements in terms of licensure and skill sets; so far, the system has been well-received, Luellen says.
Mercy also increased paid parental leave from two to eight weeks for both parents, something that has been well-received by young families, he says. As of Jan. 1, the hospital system also offers its education benefit to new employees on their first say.
Covelli Enterprises introduced its education benefit in January. Through a partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College, the company offers all employees in Ohio free college online, Covelli says.
The flexible scheduling permits employees to fit courses into their “crazy work schedules and lives outside of work,” she says.
About 15 people had signed up for the program by mid-April and the number continues to grow, Covelli says.
Pictured: Danielle Lanterman says Dearing Compressor and Pump would like to increase employment to 200.