Traverse City News and Events

Cash For Hire: Employers Getting Creative To Fill Openings

By Craig Manning | Feb. 7, 2019

As unemployment rates drop to record lows, Traverse City employers are getting creative to fill vacant positions, from multiple job fairs to cash referrals.
 
According to Michelle Socha of Northwest Michigan Works, the unemployment rate in the Traverse City area is currently hovering around 3 percent. Socha, who works with local businesses to recruit and hire new people, says she keeps hearing the same thing from local employers: “We can’t find talent.”
 
In the coming months, a host of job fair events will aim to help employers: Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) has a job fair scheduled for March 7. Two days later, Northern Michigan’s Largest Hiring Event 2019 will take place in Gaylord. On March 20, NMC and Northwest Michigan Works will partner for a “Jobs for Vets” event at the Hagerty Center. And on April 23, NMC and Northwest Michigan Works will be back at the Hagerty Center to host their eighth annual Technology Career Fair.
 
Stephanie Kleinow, recruitment and employment manager for the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, says the Resort is attending more career fairs than ever before. In addition to the NMC job fair and the event in Gaylord, Kleinow is eyeing colleges and universities throughout the state.  
 
“We’re going to Western, Michigan State, Central, and maybe Grand Valley,” Kleinow says. “Last spring, I think we went to two or three events. This year, we’re looking at 6-8 career fairs.”
 
The Resort isn’t alone in targeting younger workers. Jessie Mitchell, the business services coordinator for Northwest Michigan Works, says there is a growing focus among local employers on the “talent pipeline.” Businesses are taking steps to educate high school students about job opportunities available here, attempting to change the narrative that the area is a place where young people can’t find high-paying jobs.
 
Part of this approach is the first-ever MiCareerQuest Northwest event, which will take place at the Civic Center on May 22. Mitchell describes MiCareerQuest as “an interactive event where students can engage with employers through hands-on activities that explore different career options.” Unlike a job fair, MiCareerQuest is meant for solely career exploration and job market awareness.
 
Tonya Wildfong, director of communications and marketing for Team Elmer’s, says Elmer’s will have a presence at MiCareerQuest. Wildfong notes that many jobs within the skilled trades, including several open positions at Elmer’s, do not require a four-year degree and still pay an average of $54,000 a year. Nationwide, undergraduate enrollment marked its sixth straight year of decline in 2018. As more students look for alternative post-high school options, Elmer’s is making a play to recruit them. Team Elmer’s also hosts biennial career demonstrations at the Career-Tech Center and participates in Building Tomorrow, a “hands-on construction career and college readiness event for high school students.”
 
Other employers are paying their existing employees cash for finding new hires. The Grand Traverse Resort has a system that rewards both the referrer and the new hire. If a Resort employee were to refer a full-time hire, he or she would receive $100 after the new employee had been on the job for six months. At the one-year mark, both the referrer and the referee receive an additional $100 bonus.
 
Some companies are willing to pay even more for highly skilled and hard-to-find workers. According to Jim Rose, executive vice president for Windemuller Electric, the company upped its referral rewards a few years ago in response to the declining unemployment rate. Windemuller identified 12 positions that it routinely needed to hire and tagged each one with a referral value. For an extremely in-demand expert, such as a professional engineer, a referral can be worth up to $5,000.
 
“It’s been pretty effective,” Rose says of Windemuller’s referral strategy. “We’ve paid out a lot of referral dollars, I can tell you that. It doesn’t solve all our problems, but I think without it, we wouldn’t be in as good shape for finding folks as we are.”

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