180611_local_workforce

St. Joseph is struggling with a lack of low- and middle-skilled workers in fields like manufacturing, production, maintenance and skilled trades.

A recent workforce survey conducted by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce found the city is suffering from a shortage of skilled labor. Specifically, low- and middle-skilled workers are in demand. The reasons are manifold.

Vice President of Human Resources at Hillyard Inc. Gregg Roberts thinks one of those reasons could be an image problem plaguing the trade industry.

“It seems like starting years ago, the trade industry — whether it’s plumbing, electrical, any type of craft skill — all of a sudden wasn’t looked upon as a great job for some reason,” Roberts said. “I think in the community, in the United States, we have a problem of not having enough craft workers and skilled workers.”

Hillyard Inc. is currently looking for Department of Transportation drivers, a position that can be difficult to fill.

“That’s a challenging field right now,” Roberts said. “I think a lot of people got out of that field and it’s hard to find good, qualified drivers with DOT.”

One of the reasons is that workers are less willing to spend nights away from home.

“Individuals who are willing to be gone three, four, five nights a week on a trip, there’s not that many people who want to do that,” Roberts said.

Worker satisfaction has come more and more into focus for employers as millenials are entering the workforce. Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report found people born between 1980 and 1996 put more emphasis on job benefits and perks than generations before them.

While Roberts said Hillyard is not specifically looking for young workers, it’s the workforce that is out there and the company has changed to accommodate their needs.

“Some things, like 401k benefits, are more important to them,” he said. “Time off is very important to them, so we’ve included more time off to begin with, whether is personal, sick leave or vacation, and hopefully that will help with some of the attendance issues as well.”

The attendance issues Roberts spoke of are revealed to be part of a bigger picture when looking back at the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce workforce study. More than 70 percent of the participating employers reported 82 percent of applicants to have poor work ethic, the top deficiency reported. When asked to rate the importance of worker deficiencies on a scale of one to five, poor work ethic came out on top again, at 4.9 even higher than the importance of technical skills specific to the job (4.1).

“I think just showing up to work, making sure you’re there on time every day is important, and that’s where we see a lot of struggle sometimes,” Roberts said.

It is difficult to pinpoint why so many workers display poor work ethic but the steadily climbing level of employment in St. Joseph might be one of the reasons workers are more likely to leave their job. According to Roberts, a low unemployment rate and a high number of open positions mean workers are more tempted to quit a job they are not completely happy with as they are more confident they will find something else. Additionally, Gallup’s report shows millenials are more willing to change jobs for better benefits than the baby boomer generation and generation X.

“It’s a very competitive market and I think we all had to figure out ways how to be better employers,” Roberts said. “[We] provide better benefits, we’ve increased the starting pay for a lot of our positions and such to make sure we keep up with the other companies here in town.”

To combat this problem, Roberts said he concentrates on work history in applicants and a low turnover at Hillyard allows him to be selective in filling positions. The company is also willing to train people who have been out of the workforce for a while if the fit is right. Hillyard also works with other companies and educational institutions like Missouri Western State University and Hillyard Technical Center. Even though Hillyard is a national company, Roberts tries to hire locally whenever possible.

“Even the higher level positions, if we can hire them locally, we do,” he said. “We just hired a pretty high level position that we were able to bring someone back to St. Joseph that used to live here, so that was nice.”

Roberts said unlike in the past, companies now work together to make St. Joseph better.

“We live here, too,” Roberts said. “We want to make sure St. Joseph succeeds. We want to bring better employers, which will bring better jobs.”

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp

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