REGION – In a pandemic world, it has become impossible for any business or organization in Maine to function with a full staff and Oxford Hills is no exception. Marquis signs loop messages for available positions. Store windows help sought-after brands. Demand is on the rise for goods and services, but a contract workforce continues to threaten the economic recovery of 2021.
Hildreth & Company of South Paris provides financial and accounting services for small businesses and start-ups and enjoys an unprecedented climate. Owner Marc Hildreth has seen many people struggle to maintain staff since the pandemic and the problems continue.
âA significant portion of my customer base is in the auto repair and used car sales industry,â said Hildreth. âThese are small repair shops with two to five mechanics. Some also sell gasoline and / or convenience items, âHildreth said. âCOVID issues played a role even though their businesses weren’t on the list that had to shut down or work remotely.
âThere is a seasonal nature to the business and the ‘slow time’ was a bit slower and lasted a bit longer than usual. The ability of their business to receive PPP loans (1st and 2nd draws) was critical to keeping them in business.
Along with a shortage of employees, Hildreth said restaurants and bakeries are still struggling with product shortages, sometimes having to close on days they normally shouldn’t have.
The business of Flanders Electric, Inc. of Norway has grown exponentially since the pandemic. President Heath Poland said he was concerned when things first stopped, but working remotely and having to stay with customers prompted customers to start calling.
âWe have been inundated since the pandemic,â Poland said. “In all my years, I’ve never seen him as he is now.”
The big challenge for electrical contractors to find help is the license required for employees to do the job. It is exacerbated by the requirement that in most cases the ratio of licensed electricians to assistant electricians is 1: 1. Poland cannot put a person new to the trade to work without an experienced electrician to supervise them on the job.
âI can hire kids to train,â Poland explained. “But it can take three to five years for them to get their license.”
Flanders Electric currently has around two dozen employees and has been advertising new help for months. Poland says it had maybe a dozen applicants over the summer, but none of them were state-certified electricians.
âRight now, I could hire anyone who applies if they have a permit,â Poland said. âBut we don’t get qualified candidates. We see men and women looking for a career change, unemployed people who want to try it, and children right out of school.
Western Maine Steel, a custom manufacturer that also sells welding materials at retail, has a smaller workforce but faces the same problem finding qualified employees.
âAbsolutely, I’m trying to find help,â owner Jay Morrissette said in a phone interview last week. âI lost two welders. I finally hired a new guy to come in, but he worked a week and left.
âFor our company, all manufacturers are welders, but not all welders are manufacturers. Everything we do is tailor-made. It takes a certain level of creativity to be able to do that. The objects we weld use different materials than the ones kids learn in tech school, where they are part of the self-adhesive program. It’s a different application.
In the case of the weeklong wonder, it wasn’t a big loss for Morrissette in the end.
âWhen I hired him he said ‘I can do anything’, so I told him I would pay him $ 25 an hour for a week. At the end of the week, I would decide if it was worth it. After a week, I told him it was worth $ 17. It was the end of him.
Morrissette stopped advertising for skilled helper after she was able to recruit a manufacturer who worked at Bath Iron Works. He is still missing one employee and with a 40% increase in turnover this year, he would need more help but cannot afford to hire welding novices.
âHe (from BIW) was known to me,â Morrissette said. âI called him and said, ‘I need you to come work for me.’ And he did. “
Norway Brewing Company has a catering / bar business and wholesale line. According to Managing Director Erik Flye, even though they are able to hire staff with little to no experience, they have had to adjust their business model this year, with goals to expand wholesale and maintain the revenues of the valve room compared to the previous year.
“We have been working to expand purchasing of our kegs for draw lines and to sell cans / bottles for retail in response to the sales room service hurdles related to the pandemic,” Flye wrote in a statement. by e-mail. âWe did a great job exceeding our wholesale targets from the previous year. There were times during the year when we even exceeded the sales of taproom services from the previous year.
With a greater emphasis on wholesale products, Norway Brewing has not experienced the employee shortages that other SOEs have faced until recently.
âMany of our employees are seasonal, mainly students who only work in the summer; unlike in previous years, we do not receive new candidates to replace them [this fall]”said Fley.” Since Labor Day we have adjusted our schedules. We are closed on Wednesdays and closed on Sunday evenings because we are understaffed to keep them running.
The positions to be filled this fall include a line cook, a dishwasher and two waiters / bartenders for the tasting room. Norway Brewing is also hiring a Wholesale Representative and a Brewer.
âWe have about 15 employees, although only five-seven employees can be considered full-time,â Flye wrote. “Some employees only work one or two days.”
In August, Hildreth had to replace a part-time employee with bookkeeping and accounting skills. About a month after the employee left, he had received three applications and responded to a few telephone inquiries regarding the position.
âIn general, the candidates were qualified or able to be trained,â said Hildreth. âSome have been underqualified because they are looking for a complete career change, looking for a starting position they can be trained for. I am not old enough to offer this type of position at the moment. With a part-time position, it is difficult to find âstarâ candidates.
With part-time workers, Hildreth & Co. does not provide health insurance benefits, but does offer paid time off and paid time off, IRA and HSA plans after one year of employment, and perks such as weekly lunches. for the staff and a summer lobster cooking.
Many organizations have resorted to hiring bonuses. School Administrative District 17 instituted cash bonuses for new bus drivers, to be paid out gradually. The incentive has attracted applications from experienced CDL drivers, but regulations for bus driver certification still turn the process of new hires into three to four months of training.
At Flanders Electric, Poland said his company is covering the cost for some young employees to obtain their Maine electrician license.
In addition to benefits for all employees, including discounts on food, beer and merchandise, drinks and meals posted, Flye said Norway Brewing is considering providing health insurance benefits to full-time workers, who already benefit from paid leave. Flye added that the brewery and the tap room provide good opportunities for employees without prior skills.
âWe’ve done a lot, a lot of hires with no experience in this industry and trained them for cooking, bar, sales / marketing, even brewing,” he said. âFor us, we’re always looking for a great person who fits our brand perfectly. For us, that comes before qualifying.
“The overwhelming majority [of hires] are underqualified. However, we found some amazing and valuable members of our crew there. “