Solution to staffing shortages lies in attracting more people to Michiana

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) -We’re digging deeper into ongoing staffing shortages in Michiana and across the country.

16 News Now spent time in Elkhart County where the unemployment rate is just 3.2%. That’s below the state and national average. We’re digging deeper to find out why businesses are having such a hard time filling open roles

An expert who works at Specialized Staffing Solutions says that 3.2% unemployment number shows not only that people are getting back to work after the pandemic, but there are also more jobs than people available to take them.

Whether it’s the service industry or manufacturing Michiana is hiring right now.

“The shortage is due to the fact that we don’t have enough people to meet the demands and needs of the manufacturing, retail industry, service industry, and food industry. We just have a lot more positions available than we have people to fill them with,” said Specialized Staffing Solutions president Jacqueline Barton.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates Elkhart County has a labor force of around 110,000 people.

At 3.2% unemployment, that leaves roughly 3,500 people looking for jobs.

Utilimaster in Bristol is one of the companies getting creative while combing through that thin pool of applicants in Elkhart County.

“Increasing our base wages, so on the night shift for example, employees can start making $21 an hour. In addition to that, we’re looking to host an on site job fair which is expected to bring in quite a few people to fill those open jobs that we have,” said Utilimaster Senior HR manager Dawn Christman.

With more than two hundred jobs available at Utilimaster alone, Christman says they’ve widened their application pool beyond their region.

“So what we’ve had to do in this situation is reach out beyond Michiana to other areas to be able to transport candidates to come in, interview, and hire them from other areas,” she said.

Barton says that industries increasing wages and benefits in response to the staff shortages like manufacturing is can hurt other sectors like food and service by attracting their workers away from their original jobs.

She says a permanent solution will be to attract more people to the area for work, and then to build a community to keep them here.

“We need to have an infrastructure to bring more people into our area and we need a community that allows that. More affordable housing, the type of transportation that can allow people to work in different cities. I feel that is really our biggest issue. There’s just not a large enough population to sustain the level of growth that we have benefited from and experienced in St. Joseph and Elkhart County,” Barton said.

She says jobs will continue to grow as the economy does, so unless employers can get more people to move to the area, staffing issues could continue.

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