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Employers get creative to retain workers

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | March 4, 2022 12:00 AM

Mike Bare has worked at Nomad Global Communication Solutions in Columbia Falls for eight years.

He’s one of approximately 140 employees the manufacturer is striving to retain through creative workforce initiatives.

“Now more than ever before, company culture matters,” said Dorothy Meyer, Nomad’s workforce development specialist, during a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Feb. 15. “It’s an employee’s market.”

Bare, a team leader who spearheads the construction on many custom-made Nomad vehicles, said he has stuck with the Columbia Falls company because of the freedom and variety he gets to experience on the job.

“I get to do what I want,” he said. “I’ve never come to work and done the same thing two days in a row. It’s amazing the versatility.”

Meyer and the Nomad leadership endeavor to give employees like Bare even more reasons to stay by employing innovative retention strategies. Nomad offers flexible scheduling, educational compensation, financial mentorship and comprehensive feedback.

The company is growing, but the labor pool is not, so businesses like Nomad are being forced to reexamine the ways they can retain existing employees. Nomad is one of many companies engaging in what John Caldwell at Job Service Kalispell has deemed “The Great Retention.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 33 million Americans have quit their jobs since spring 2021 in what’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”

A renewed retention effort among employers is emerging amid this trend. Caldwell and his colleagues at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry are seeing employers recognize the dire need to refocus their recruitment and retention efforts.

“Employers are starting to realize that it’s not easy to replace employees who leave,” said Jessica Nelson, Public Information Officer for the Department of Labor and Industry. “…This is why 2022 will be the year of The Great Retention and employers should be focusing on retaining their current employees.”

BUT THE Great Retention may require companies to be more flexible than before.

“I think employers are going to have to change their mindset a little bit,” said Ronda Wakefield, a human resources consultant with 20 years of experience in the Flathead Valley.

“This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the recruiting world,” she said.

Wakefield said she sees this tension playing out beyond the Flathead Valley, but there are specific circumstances locally that exacerbate the issue.

The lack of housing in the area is one of the biggest barriers to finding and retaining workers, Wakefield said. She said employers are increasingly seeing potential employees turn down positions because they can’t find housing. Kalispell’s vacancy rate currently sits at 0%.

“My talent pool is more confined to candidates there in the valley,” she explained.

Many of Wakefield’s clients jump from one local business to another, which doesn’t solve the overall workforce shortage, she said.

A skills gap is another issue Wakefield has noticed in the current job market. She observed how the pandemic pushed many workers out of fields like retail and service, but the people leaving those industries rarely have the skills or experience to transition into different occupations. Wakefield suggested employers should look at increasing the availability of training in order to fill employment gaps.

“They’ve got to get the experience somewhere,” Wakefield said. “Now’s a good time to look at that [training opportunities].”

Wakefield also urged employers to look more seriously at nontraditional candidates. Veterans, older workers, people with disabilities and people with criminal convictions could all make good candidates for workplaces with more flexible hiring practices, Wakefield suggested.

Childcare poses another major hindrance to employment for many workers in the valley, observed Kalispell Chamber CEO Lorraine Clarno.

“Child care is huge,” Clarno said.

According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, the number of available licensed child care slots in Flathead County accounts for just 28% of local children up to age 5. A family would have to make $112,857 annually to afford the average cost of childcare at an affordable rate, according to the Chamber. That’s why the Kalispell Chamber recently launched its action plan to address local child care needs.

Despite the obstacles, Clarno remains confident the Flathead Valley is well positioned to embrace the idea of “The Great Retention.”

“There’s no better place in most of our opinions to live, work and play,” Clarno said. “It’s just going to take a few years to navigate our way through.”

photo

Mike Bare shows the unfinished interior of one of the custom coach mobile command vehicles at Nomad Global Communication Solutions on Wednesday, March 2. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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