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Greg Cottom is frustrated. As owner and president of Express Employment Professionals in Carbondale, he is having a difficult time meeting the needs of his clients -- businesses looking for employees.

“Right now, this is the most challenging time I’ve seen in four years,” he says. “Businesses are looking to expand and grow, yet they are having a hard time finding the people to fill positions. The potential for growth is exciting for business but it also is very challenging.”

Cottom says there simply are lots of open jobs and not enough people to fill them.

“We’re talking all kinds of jobs: administrative, sales, general labor, clerical and professional positions,” he adds.

John Otey, business services manager for the Illinois Department of Employment Security says he is seeing the same scenario all across the region.

“Right now, we have more good jobs than we have workforce for,” he explains. “In one way that’s a good thing and it’s also a challenging thing. We’re working with employers, posting their jobs and hosting hiring events trying to get them qualified candidates, but still, we have far more jobs than we do people to take those positions.”

Like Cottom, he says the open jobs reach across a wide variety of industries and classifications.

“There is a large number of blue collar jobs, production jobs, health care and service jobs available,” he continues. “There are always jobs in truck driving and positions for people who can weld, do metalworking and other trades. It’s an on-going, very critical need in our area.”

To help bridge the gap, Otey says the department works closely with community colleges and other educational institutions to help prepare Southern Illinoisans for those jobs.

“I think it is crucial that all partners work together,” he says. “We have to be focused on how we creatively continue to keep that pipeline of getting qualified candidates in front of employers.”

To accomplish that goal, Lori Cox, associate dean of workforce and community education at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, says communication with those doing the hiring is key.

“We’re working closely with our employers,” she says, adding that the college has a special advisory board comprised of representatives from businesses who are hiring. “They meet twice a year with our instructors, talking specifically about what job skills are needed and sometimes even look at what is going on in the classroom, offering suggestions about what else our students need to be successful.”

Finding the right people with the right skills

Businesses need to not just hire people, they need to hire the right people, making the process of candidate selection and onboarding of new hires critically important.

“Just finding anybody off of the street is not going to work for us, because it is going to lead to turnover,” explains Aisin Electronics Illinois Human Resources Representative Meredith Moyers. “We have to find someone that is a great fit for us and make sure that we are a great fit for them; it’s not always mutually exclusive. A big part of our job is making sure that employees are going to work well.”

She says that employers need to be up-front with information about the company and the position.

“We make sure going in that they know the benefits package, requirements, expectations and what they are getting into,” she says. “For example, we make certain that they understand that they are not always promised a specific shift. We want them to look at the glorious things and we also tell them stuff that’s not so great -- the stuff they need to know coming in.”

Brittany Lutrell, human resources representative for Aisin adds, “We really go into detail about what they are getting into. We don’t sugar coat it. This is a factory line, this is what is expected of you and of course, we also go into benefits and pay. It’s all about getting the right person.”

She says part of the company’s hiring process also includes checking on technical skills.

“We actually have pretests and analysis assessments just to make sure that candidates can keep up with the speed and accuracy of our production, that they can follow instructions and not make errors. “

Cottom says trying to find the perfect fit for an employer is a daunting task, and he places some of the blame on a deterioration of some personal characteristics.

“People don’t seem to have the work ethic that they used to,” he asserts. “It’s very difficult to screen for that and it puts a bigger burden on references. If people have been responsible and reliable in the past, it’s likely that they will in the future.”

Cox says Southeastern Illinois College has a renewed focus on building these traits.

“We used to call them soft skills, but now we call them essential skills,” she says. “They are no longer something to be thought of after the fact, they have to be at the forefront.”

Among these skills, Cox lists teamwork, punctuality, attitude, communications skills and drive.

“Employers need and want these skills in their workforce. We’ve started teaching this in a class for freshmen because we want to give students a feel for what to expect at work and what expectations employers are coming with. That message sometimes is lost.”

Aisin uses a mentorship program that matches current team members with new employees.

“Each department has these mentors so new team members have someone to go to and feel more comfortable with because it can be really intimidating, going into a company this size,” Luttrell says.

Increased competition

The large number of companies vying for the same potential employees is creating some unique recruitment tactics and even some benefits for job seekers. Cottom says he is hearing of businesses stepping up advertising of job openings and rewarding new hires.

“I’ve seen employers trying to recruit from other cities or even states and trying things like Facebook advertising of open jobs and even sign-on bonuses for new people,” he says.

The job market is leading some employers to evaluate their own offerings, too.

“We really have to reassess our opportunities and what we are offering both to the region and to individual employees,” explains Kasi McBride, human resources director for Anna-based Cook Portable Warehouses. “We have to reevaluate and stay current on our competition, too, because in reality, we are all out there with the same purpose and we’re looking for the same people.”

Otey recommends Cook’s approach.

“In our area, I would say that employers are becoming more competitive in wages, benefits and some of the incentives,” he says. “Right now, for many job seekers, the careers, the benefits, the money and the opportunities for advancement are all right there.”

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