Focus group discussions with employers brought out several candid and insightful comments that suggest a remarkably thorough understanding of the low-skill, low-wage labor force. Employers not only shared their views on the services provided by the One-Stop systems, but also some of their insights on screening job applicants and improving employee retention in tight labor markets. These insights include:
- Employment Screening: While some employers conduct initial interviews at the One-Stop facility, a couple of employers noted that they have found it very useful to have job applicants visit the work site before hiring them. Their argument is that they want to ensure a good match between the work and the employee, and the employee needs to see and experience the work environment before feeling comfortable with the job. For example, some low-wage positions have smells, noise or security systems that are discomforting enough to affect turnover rates if employers aren't careful about these issues. Prospective hires also need to be familiar with how to get there - including any mass transit or other commuting issues.
- Job Readiness: In some locations, the local labor market was so tight that some employers indicated a willingness to hire anyone that would show up to work everyday, regardless of skill level. Work ethic issues seemed to vary by location. For example, in Traverse City, one human resources manager noted that he had worked in several regions in the country and had never found a labor force more ready and eager to work. Another business owner in Bellingham reported just the opposite, citing repeated instances of employees not reporting to work and not bothering to call to say they couldn't, or wouldn't be coming to work. Most employers emphasized their willingness to train workers for entry level work, but cautioned that One-Stop programs must push hard to ensure that persons referred to them should be familiar enough with basic work rules regarding substance abuse, punctuality, dress, and appropriate behavior.
- Employee Retention: Generally the message from employers on attracting and retaining employees in a tight market was to treat them with respect, to let them know they are valued, and to be flexible within clear limits. One employer said that if an employee's car was in the shop or the employee had to get themselves or a child to a doctor's appointment during the work day, the employer had an agreement with a cab company to provide a cab ride at the company's expense. She said it didn't cost much, relative to lost work days, and it really made and impression on employees - not to mention a big reduction in stories about failed auto transportation. Several employers expressed concern about child care, some of whom had taken steps to provide or subsidize child care. One employer argued that his flexible work schedule allowed him to poach employees from his competitor at lower wages, while another employer with a rigid, 10-hour a day, 4-day a week work schedule reported extreme difficulties with turnover among young parents.
- Know Your Labor Force: Several employers noted that it is important to gauge the trade-off between fringe benefits and wages according to the characteristics of your desired labor force. Some employers voiced frustration with employees who would leave a job with health and pension benefits for another job with only a slightly higher wage rate. However, most of these footloose employees were younger, with relatively little appreciation of the value of the benefits offered.