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Angie Wieck, Published May 03 2014

Employers offer incentives to attract workers

FARGO - Sign-on bonuses for pizza delivery drivers. College scholarships for welders. Free tuition to become a certified nursing assistant.

Incentives like these are becoming more common for area companies, who say they’re necessary to fill open positions in Fargo-Moorhead – where the metro area’s 3.3 percent unemployment rate has tightened the labor pool.

It has also prompted some companies to focus more on retaining employees.

Here are a few examples:

Paying for school

Trail King Industries, a trailer manufacturer in West Fargo, needs to hire 40 positions in order to fully staff their p.m. shift, said human resource manager Ryan Erkenbrack.

The company tried to bring people in from out of state to fill positions, but management quickly realized the company’s future rested in the area’s young people because the need is so great, said Perry Lubbers, vice president of manufacturing operations.

Trail King now pays up to $4,000 in scholarships per year to qualified students studying trades such as welding or painting at area technical colleges. Students who attend a one-year program are required to make a commitment to Trail King for one year. Two-year programs require a two-year commitment.

The company has also hired a full-time recruiter with the sole purpose of working with area students, high school counselors and teachers.

Janelle Klinke, vice president of human resources at Eventide Senior Living, said anyone working in long-term care will say their biggest challenge is filling nursing and certified nursing assistant positions.

They currently offer paid certified nursing assistant classes for qualified applicants. They cover the cost of the classes and pay the employee for their time as well.

Eventide also rolled out a new market-based compensation system in 2013 in order to attract workers. Klinke said it will be evaluated again at budget time in order to ensure their wages remain competitive.

Keeping workers

Klinke said Eventide is doing what it can to attract new employees as well as focusing on retaining the ones it has, and growing interest in senior living occupations in young people.

In order to retain employees, Eventide partnered with Tonya Stende of the Dale Carnegie Business Group of North Dakota with the goal of improving their internal communication and corporate culture.

They instituted employee surveys to measure employee satisfaction and have made appropriate changes where needed. It seems to be working because Klinke said their turnover is the lowest it has been in years.

“Whatever you can do internally has to be the same marketing philosophy as you use to recruit,” Klinke said. “You just can’t say we’re working on employee retention because you have a rewards committee or fun committee. It has to be more. It has to be deeper.”

Klinke said Eventide is also doing what they can to “build the pipeline.” They have partnered with local high schools and colleges to educate young people about the career opportunities within long-term care.

A bonus to start

A tight job market has not only affected the medical and manufacturing fields.

Marcus Benoit, co-owner of Merry Maids in Grand Forks and Fargo, recently ran classifieds offering a $400 sign-on bonus to new employees.

He offered the incentive in order to beef up his workforce for the busy months of April, May and June. Ensuring employees won’t take the bonus and quit, Benoit pays the amount out over four months. So far, he said it has worked.

Benoit said he struggles with a small applicant pool made even smaller by drug testing and background check policies. The company implemented the standards for the peace of mind of clients, but he said it is paying off for them as well.

“We’re retaining employees longer because we’re handpicking better employees,” Benoit said.

Steve Peterson, manager of Slapshot Pizza and Nine Dragons in Fargo, has offered sign-on bonuses as well. He said offering a $100 sign-on bonus is a way to get more applicants in the door.

While Peterson said he has a core of employees who have worked with him for quite a while, he is always hiring.

“You drive down the road, and you’ll see on every sign board that people are hiring. We’re no different. Always looking,” Peterson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501