Companies are advertising more, offering incentives and more in an attempt to hire workers
By Steve Yablonski
Many Central New York businesses are still having trouble maintaining workers and attracting new workers.
Nick Canale, owner of Canale’s restaurant in Oswego, said during the summer he had to close his restaurant on Mondays, not because he couldn’t adequately staff the business, but because he’d been short-staffed since January. This gave his diminished workforce a chance to rest.
He advertised widely, but got little response.
A big part of the problem was the cash incentives unemployed people received earlier this year. Even though the unemployment incentives have twilighted, the staffing problem continues. Some businesses have tried increasing salary, offering hiring bonuses and other enticements, including Popsicles.
“Labor shortages are the No. 1 problem seasonal small businesses face. Ours is no exception,” said Jim Sollecito, lifetime senior NYS certified landscape professional. “Our long-term staff is solid.
We take good care of all of our people. But there simply are not enough fresh faces showing up looking for a job. High school kids are trying to navigate being back in a structured environment and just don’t seem to be able to handle much more right now. Same with college staff that we usually are able to bring in part-time.”
This past year, Sollecito had 18 full-time staff. They were 18% short of what they could have used.
“So, we paid more in overtime and we shortened the hours we were open. Weekend labor is tough to find; so we closed Sundays,” he said.
Normally they have three or four recently retired people working 15-20 hours a week. This year, they had one.
“People have learned how to live smaller, spend their retirement savings and they are still cautious about returning to a work environment where they will have more exposure to COVID than by staying home,” Sollecito said.
That being said, demand for quality landscape plants has never been stronger, he added. “Our landscape teams have been extremely busy and I see no reason short of a recession that this will be the same scenario in 2022,” he said.
Sollecito does quarterly bonuses, its pay scale is above average, they have a positive and very safe work environment. And, the big hit is Popsicle Time every day at 3 p.m.
“We started this tradition two years ago. I buy real fruit Popsicle sticks at Wegmans. At 3 every day we stop what we are doing and gather for everyone to have a Popsicle and spend a minute or two telling what is going on in their world. If customers would like, we hand them a Popsicle as well,” Sollecito explained. “One of the best morale builders I ever came up with. Wish I had thought of it years ago, but that’s what makes the future so exciting. Having been in business 48 years, we have seen a lot of bumps in the road along the way. We all learn to adapt to the new norm, we are adapting now and we’ll keep doing what we do so very well.”
“The start to the fall semester was more of a challenge in all facets of our staffing, from management, permanent hourly, temporary and student staff,” said Steve McAfee of SUNY Oswego’s Auxiliary Services division. “As the semester has progressed, we have seen improvement in these areas and look forward to that trend. Given those challenges, we have maintained all of our services to the campus community with little reduction in hours or amenities.”
“During the pandemic, as Stickley resumed operations in Manlius and Archdale, North Carolina, we immediately saw challenges finding enough workers to meet the demand for our products,” said Matt Targett, director of marketing for L & JG Stickley. “The federal and state stimulus packages seemed to contribute to the situation. But, now we can see that there are larger, macro-economic issues that are creating the worker shortage. The shortage isn’t limited to hourly workers, skilled labor or office staff. We are experiencing challenges across the board.”
Stickley has taken steps to both attract and retain workers. They advertise locally for all open positions, use job boards, local university placement services, on the backs of trucks, increased referral bonuses and job fairs.
“Over the summer, we greatly increased our internship program bringing college-aged workers into the factory and the office to both alleviate manpower shortages and to position Stickley as an attractive place to seek a career after college,” Targett explained. “We are continuing that program over the holidays and again next summer. Additionally, we increased starting wages across the board and added retention bonuses for many workers.”
It is clear that this labor shortage will not end soon and “we have to remain competitive and aggressive in retaining and seeking new employees. We will continue to make Stickley an attractive workplace and offer the benefits of a family-owned business to each and every employee,” he added.
“We are actively hiring for positions across all of our Syracuse area stores to ensure our customers continue to receive the incredible customer service they are accustomed to during the busy holiday season,” said Marcie Rivera, Wegmans Food Markets, public relations. “To fill these roles, we have hosted hiring events to encourage those who are interested to apply.”
“We have certainly had to change our approach with recruitment and staffing in both our retail stores and our warehouse. To help attract applicants to our warehouse, we offer a sign-on bonus and pay for performance incentives,” said Kathy Sautter, Tops Markets spokesperson. “In both our warehouse and retail stores, we have changed how we interview applicants by utilizing our virtual platform, doing phone interviews and on-the-spot interviews as well. We have to be willing to talk to candidates any day, any time, otherwise we risk losing them to other employers.”
“Now, more than ever, we have also encouraged the hiring of minors as young as 14 years old in our retail locations. We help these students to balance their academic demands, sports, extracurricular activities, and work schedules and pride ourselves on being a ‘first job’ that helps build skills for wherever they go in life,” Sautter said. “A perk for these young adults to join the Tops team is that we offer scholarship opportunities and tuition reimbursement.”
“We, as an independent living center, certainly do employ people with disabilities. We’ve experienced a pretty significant problem in hiring in general, people with disabilities or without,” said Tania Anderson, CEO of ARISE. “It’s a problem all across the country; but we have a big issue with hiring right here in CNY.”
They are “certainly functioning,” but probably have more than four dozen open positions right now, she noted. ARISE employs, across its total service area, about 650 people; about 120 in Oswego County.
“We have programs for people with developmental disabilities where about 42% of the people who are approved to receive rehabilitation services aren’t getting any service, because we don’t have the direct support professionals,” Anderson said.
Other programs are affected as well. Some people are approved for services in their home, but aren’t getting services because ARISE can’t find the staff.
There really is a significant problem and it’s having a direct impact on people with disabilities, she said.
“We’ve done a lot to increase our recruitment efforts. We’ve done advertisements, we’ve done community events, we’ve done a referral bonus program, we put signs on our buildings in Oswego and Syracuse,” she added. “We’re not having any success.”
They have had times where people just don’t show up for an interview. Also, they have had a higher turnover rate since the pandemic.
“That’s a significant cost because there’s a cost every time you hire and train someone,” she said. “We’re really hurting when it comes to direct care staff; people are going without services.”