Ohio companies take advantage of signing rewards and higher wages amid labor shortages

Traveling through Ohio this summer brings a sight beyond the cicadas: swarms of “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” signs line streets and paths.

In every industry in Ohio and across the country, companies have made it clear they need a workforce and up the ante to get it.

White Castle, famous for its slider, has increased its starting wage from $ 11.50 to $ 15 an hour. Wendy’s – its Dublin-based competitor – offers $ 100 signing and referral bonuses. The gas station and convenience chain Sheetz has increased its wages for all workers by USD 2 an hour and is offering a summer hourly bonus.

While the need for labor in restaurants and retailers is most pressing, incentives don’t stop there.

Wendy's offers a new entry bonus for new employees.

Piqua-based baby products company Evenflo is offering a $ 1,500 signing bonus. Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati offers seasoned table game dealers up to $ 4,000 in sign up bonuses. Target has posted jobs at its West Jefferson warehouse starting at $ 17.75 an hour while Honda is trying to fill vacancies at its US operations.

OhioMeansJobs, a state job listing website, reported 271,641 open positions nationwide by mid-April, according to the latest available report. That is around 70,000 jobs since the beginning of the year.

Most of the vacancies were for registered nurses with 12,427, followed by retail managers with 10,139 and truck drivers with 8,911.

Incentives, advantages for work

“Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do to get people in the door,” said Charlie Carter, president of Employment Solutions Columbus.

The temp agency, which primarily hires for temporary warehouse positions, used to look for companies to help them with the hiring process. Now companies are instead calling the recruiting agency, which is desperately looking for workers who seem to have disappeared.

The agency used to see 20 to 30 applicants a day for warehouse roles. Carter said about two months ago that the number of daily applicants had dropped by single digits.

To attract workers, Carter said he saw companies offer larger paychecks, sign-up bonuses, or flexible, do-it-yourself work schedules.

With recruitment battles in Ohio and elsewhere, White Castle decided some changes needed to be made too, said Jamie Richardson, vice president of the Columbus-based chain.

“We want to keep our restaurants open 24 hours. We are known for that, ”said Richardson.

White Castle announced on June 8th that it would raise his starting salary to $ 15 an hour to attract more applicants. Richardson said he hopes the move will bring the company back towards “full speed” before the pandemic.

Starting salary is a factor people value when looking for a job, but Richardson said it is important for companies to also consider the benefits offered to all of their employees. For White Castle, this manifests itself in weekly paychecks instead of bi-weekly and free meals during shifts.

Evenflo started looking for 70 production employees this spring. After not finding enough applicants using traditional methods, in addition to a starting salary of $ 16 an hour, the company offered a sign-up bonus of $ 1,500 – the highest in its history – and a quarterly bonus of $ 250 for a perfect Participation in.

To get the word out, Evenflo hosted a hiring event on June 15 with a Kona Ice Truck and BBQ night.

Thirty people turned up, far fewer than the 100 who had turned up at a similar event last summer when the bonus wasn’t available.

“Getting people to show up has been a challenge,” said Sydney Shiverdecker, plant human resources manager at Evenflo. “There are so many vacancies at the moment that we have to be able to tell them why here and not elsewhere.”

The company has tried some other first-time ways – such as advertising on Spanish radio and working with a disabled recruiter – to fill the vacancies.

“We just try to do everything we can to find people,” said Shiverdecker.

In a noisy hiring environment, 84 Lumber is also trying new tools to get the message across. In the fall, the Pennsylvania-based materials supplier began holding recruitment events to speak directly to applicants.

On June 22nd, it will host one in its Etna store to fill about 20 openings in its locations in the Columbus region.

“The market is certainly much more active now. You are seeing a lot more vacancies than before,” said Michelle Buczkowski, vice president of talent management at 84 Lumber. “We just have to make sure our message gets across. Once we have the candidates in front of us, we’re in pretty good shape. Much of it is just to get there and stand out from the rest of the world. ”

84 Lumber has also tried to make it easier for online applicants to speak face-to-face with a recruiter and to speed up the recruitment process so that the company “is ready to offer them an on-site offer,” said Buczkowski.

To attract applicants for its 2,500 openings, the Donatos pizza chain from Columbus turned to something they knew: pizza.

In May, the company organized “dinner reviews” with potential employees. The company offered prospects the chance to get “a job on site” along with a certificate for a free large pizza.

Fyda Freightliner posted a massive “Now Hiring” sign on his building off Interstate 70 west of Columbus to get the word out and, for the first time, advertised workers on the radio. The company wants to hire 30 or 40 people before opening a new, larger plant a few miles west this fall.

While the company has been able to fill its positions so far – in part because its starting salary is well above the minimum wage – Neil Fyda, manager of business development for the company, knows the hiring landscape is now challenging.

“Companies find it so hard to find people,” said Fyda. “They’re raising wages, making referral rewards, offering signing rewards. You can’t keep staff where they need them. It’s very, very hard to get people.”

Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati, in addition to the $ 4,000 bonuses offered to seasoned dealers, offers one-time bonuses of $ 200 to $ 500 for frontline staff including cashiers, chefs, waiters, and bartenders.

The bonuses have helped the downtown Cincinnati casino address post-pandemic labor shortages in the gaming and hospitality industries, said casino president George Goldhoff.

Break down the cause

Economists and employers offer a variety of explanations for the labor shortage, but no one denies that it is widespread. The latest Ohio Restaurant Association poll found that 65% of members said the staff shortage is at a “critical stage.”

McCormick & Schmick's is looking for employees for its Easton Town Center restaurant in Columbus.  The latest Ohio Restaurant Association poll found that 65% of members said they had a staff shortage at one

Some blame the $ 300-per-week extra unemployment benefit for keeping workers at home and expect the landscape to change when the bonus expires on June 26th.

“We were in competition with the US government,” said Hard Rock Casino’s Goldhoff. “We could pay more, but they (ex-casino employees) didn’t get enough bonuses to come back.”

Others continue to see the problem in ongoing fears of getting COVID-19 or the challenge of finding childcare.

“The question of whether we have survived the pandemic or not continues to weigh on people’s minds,” said PNC senior economist Bill Adams.

Employees who left the workforce during the pandemic to start their own business or to retire are also contributing to the labor shortage. State employment data shows the state has about 130,000 fewer workers than it did before the pandemic began.

Whatever the cause, the deficiency is unlikely to change overnight.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road to get the economy back up to speed,” said Adams.

In the eyes of Nationwide Senior Economist Ben Ayers, the easiest step any company can take to attract employees is to pay them more.

“A more permanent wage would likely resonate with most workers,” Ayers said.

Ayers said labor shortages and employer response may reflect a wider shift towards higher wages, especially for people with lower-paying jobs.

“There’s an environment where you understand that many of the sectors, the frontline workers, haven’t seen so many wage changes in recent years,” Ayers said.

Even before the pandemic broke out, Atlas Butler was finding it harder to attract workers, said Monica Yanscik, the company’s human resources director.

“It was a little more difficult to find these entry-level workers during COVID,” Yanscik said.

Columbus’ heating, cooling and plumbing company currently has around 10 open positions, a mix of young professionals and those with more experience.

Atlas Butler starts workers with no experience at $ 14 an hour. Yanscik said that with training from the company, beginners can move up quickly and see their wages rise.

“If you have a good culture, you will keep your people,” said Yanscik.

Contributors to this report were Columbus Dispatch reporters Jim Weiker and Mark Williams and Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Randy Tucker.

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