Riddell: A solution for Grand County’s employee shortage
July 30, 2015
As you might have noticed from previous columns, there is a consistency to the belief that an organization's success is tied to finding and keeping good employees. But what do you do when you find yourself in an environment where the demand for employees greatly exceeds the supply and the limited supply is, in fact, going to other places? This is happening all across Grand County.
While the causes of this situation are certainly numerous and subject to much discussion, there are a few facts which merit examination. First, of course, are the generational tendencies of many of the typical entry level service employees. Their short term career path is often structured around their favorite seasonal recreational pursuit. "Putting down roots" is limited to a car full of gas, a tent and sleeping bag in the trunk, and enough cash for another fill-up and a burrito.
This is nothing new for tourist/recreational based areas and, indeed, this reality directly contributes to relatively low wages and minimal investment in training for employees. But when you couple this with the paucity of affordable rental property in the area, then you are almost inviting these folks to arrive, stay just a little while, then head on down the road. From a service business perspective, the two biggest daily concerns, the two biggest sources of heartburn, are punctuality and attendance.
Some organizations in the area have accepted the challenge of this lodging reality and made the bold step of investing in affordable housing for their employees. Unfortunately this path is not really viable for the majority of Grand County small businesses. And given that 300 percent employee turnover is also neither a desirable nor viable option, what can small business owners/managers do to control their situation as opposed to the situation controlling them?
Interestingly enough, Grand County possesses a hidden employee advantage, one that has largely gone untapped. As many readers are aware, while the weekend roads are certainly full of second home/vacation home owners, during the week there are still quite a significant number of resident retirees prowling the aisles of the grocery stores. These retirees are in many ways the antithesis of the young transits. They don't need above average wages to afford their housing, they have "put down roots," and many were raised to appreciate the value of teamwork. Of course, all of this is underscored with a portfolio of life skills for survival in the real world. What these seniors do not want, however, are inflexibility, an exorbitant amount of personal time commitment, and a work environment that treats their life experience as a technological shortcoming.
You wouldn't think it would be that difficult for some open minded companies to tap into this vein of experience. The barriers to this employment remedy boil down to two major issues. First, most company owners/managers are clueless when it comes to structuring work packages that meet the above requirements. They are so locked into preconceived hiring patterns that they cannot connect the required dots for this new picture. Second, most of the potential senior employees simply do not see themselves in this new role because they too are locked into a pattern of preconceived notions regarding today's employment environment and requirements.
So, all that is required is for one or more companies to coordinate a job fair for local seniors, to think through their new approach, communicate this new approach with targeted advertising and be prepared to be overwhelmed with quality candidates. Clearly an umbrella business organization such as a local Chamber of Commerce would also be an ideal catalyst for such an event.
Of course, the business community could just keep on with the same old, same old—complaining about the younger generation, losing repeat business, self-generating worry-based ulcers, and perpetuating a failing business model. But it just seems like this would be such a terrible waste of time, not to mention a substantial waste of talent.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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