Labor Shortage Part 1

August 18, 2003

Dealing with a Labor Shortage (Part 1)

By: Linda Leigh Francis

I can’t find qualified workers! I hear this lament all over the country. Many experts think this labor shortage will be with us for years to come. Some estimate the growing demand for skilled workers will exceed new people coming into the industry by two to one.

What can you do? Here are a few strategies for getting the workers you need. The core element in each strategy is excellent personnel practices clear and accurate job descriptions, competitive wages tied to skill levels, performance reviews, and an honest appreciation and acknowledgment for an employee’s contribution to company success

1. Keep who you have. Run a company that values its people and they know it. This company meets more than the financial needs of its employees. Its a company that shares its mission and goals and shares the success and profitability of the business with the people who helped make it happen.

I work with a retailer who is not the highest paying employer in the area. However, she treats her people right and values their contributions. She shares the company plan and its profits. Although her people regularly get job offers from other retailers, they don’t respond to these offers because of how their company treats them. If you are only keeping people with money, there will always be a higher bidder. Go beyond the dollar and meet the other needs of your employees.

2. Grow your own. Nordstrom’s department store has a saying: Hire nice and train cash register. You can teach someone to use a cash register, but you can’t teach them to be nice. What attributes do you need in an employee? Intelligence? Good people skills? Mechanically inclined? Good work habits? Hire green with these characteristics in mind. You also have to offer people a career path within your organization, both in terms of new skills and increased wages.

A plumbing, heating, and cooling service company I work with uses the grow-your-own strategy. The owner is on the board of directors of a local apprenticeship training school and gets a shot at the cream of the crop. She has clear job descriptions tied to a salary schedule so that employees can see a future within her company.

She carefully places the apprentices with journeymen who use specific training criteria that lead to in-house certification. She has opened her books. Everyone in her company knows how much it costs to run the business, what the profits are, and each shares in the company’s success. Lots of work? You bet! But, she has excellent employees and a very healthy business.

Linda Francis teaches workshops and seminars on business management and it the author of Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You. For information on her seminars or to order her book, call 707-485-0162, or e-mail

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