'It's a job-seekers market:' How businesses are competing during labor shortage

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As we get to the other side of the pandemic, businesses are reopening and scrambling to hire people. However a worker shortage in Wisconsin is making that tough.

In April 2020 the unemployment rate was 14.1 percent, but by April of this year it was down to 3.9 percent. So, businesses are trying to figure out how to recruit workers so they can fully reopen.

"We're getting really geared up to go into summer selling where we see a lot of cookouts, celebrations are coming back," said Emilie Williamson, community affairs manager for Roundy's Supermarkets.

Roundy's Supermarkets have more than 900 jobs open at their stores across Wisconsin, and more than 100 in their distribution center. Filling those jobs right now isn't easy.

"It's absolutely a job-seekers market right now," Williamson said.

Mitchell International Airport is facing the same problem.

"We have a lot of tenets here and as travel recovers, there's definitely a need for more employees," said Harold Mester, director of public affairs and market at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.

This week the airport held a job fair for the first time in 15 years.

"It can be difficult because there are a lot of places that are hiring," Mester said.

At Roundy's and the airport, the types of jobs run the gamut. Full time, part time and management.

"It's very safe to say if you're looking for a job, you can find one," said Jim Morgan, vice president of workforce strategies and workforce development at MRA, a nonprofit employer association.

Jim Morgan is an expert in workforce strategies and business development.

"How did that happen when last year it was unemployment numbers are at a record high and all these people struggling to find jobs?" CBS 58 asked.

"Those companies that weren't able to do something or pivot to something different just as quickly as they all shut down, they all came back," Morgan said.

But Morgan says many employees didn't come back. Older workers who lost jobs or didn't want to learn how to work remote, decided to retire.

"The upper Midwest, as a group, it's just not good. We're getting very old, very fast," Morgan said. "We don't have a lot of people moving in."

That means employers have to get creative. Morgan says some companies are going to US territories like Puerto Rico to recruit workers without having to deal with immigration issues. Other companies are turning to often overlooked populations.

"We're seeing employers look to people who were recently incarcerated, who are reentering the workforce or perhaps people who have a disability, where before the employer would not have the energy to take that on," said Sec. Missy Hughes, the secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Benefits matter, too. Signing bonus, flexible work hours and letting people work remotely.

"I think companies are really starting to look hard at if we're going to target a certain age group or a certain group of people, how do we fit their lifestyle so this is the place they want to work," Morgan said.

Roundy's has a tuition reimbursement program for people who work there for at least six months.

"Eighty-seven percent of the takers in that program are actually hourly associates," Williamson said.

But there's no quick fix.

"We need to be thinking about -- how do we invite folks to move to Wisconsin and live here," said Sec. Hughes.

And in the meantime, businesses will suffer. Companies can't keep up with demand, others can't even reopen.

"The more employees we have working here, the more the shops and restaurants that we can reopen to travelers and make those available," Mester said.

"We're not digging out of this for quite a while," Morgan added.

Roundy's, the airport and a lot of other employers are hiring a variety of ages, experience levels and hours.

Here are resources if you are looking for work:

https://jobs.kroger.com/

https://www.mitchellairport.com/employment

https://jobcenterofwisconsin.com/

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