Over the past few months, businesses of all types have reported staffing shortages and, although the restaurant industry seems to be the hardest hit, all industries are seeing a shortage of applicants for vacant positions. Even the City of Milford recently warned of delays in service due to the many vacant positions that exist in city government.
“We have been crawling our way back,” Jayson Crouch, Chief Executive Officer of Kent-Sussex Industries (KSI), said. “We were shut down in March of 2020 and were able to open our day program on August 5. We geared up, developed protocols and began communicating with our staff to see who could follow the protocol such as masks, using hand sanitizer and dealing with transportation restrictions. We have made calls on a weekly basis to bring people back in and have now gone through all of our staff who are willing to return.”
Crouch explained that when KSI shut down in March, some employees were furloughed, allowing them to collect unemployment. Currently, their main shortage is in Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who work directly with the clients who benefit from KSI as well as drivers.
“About a month ago, I sat down and went through the Guide,” Crouch said. “There were pages and pages and pages of employment ads, all offering high hourly salaries, signing bonuses and more. The starting salary for our open positions is $12. As a non-profit, I can’t offer big bonuses. We were paying $11 but did increase to $12 and are hoping to increase it again. I know these are tough jobs and they should be paid more.” Crouch stated that the positions paying $12 an hour actually cost KSI $19 an hour as the company does offer a full benefits package.
Crouch explained that he now recruits applicants by demonstrating what the job can do for them. DSP and driver positions touch other people’s lives, helping those with disabilities gain independence which he feels is rewarding in its own way. He said he has had success with that approach.
“We can offer $12 an hour, a benefit package and Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM with almost no weekend work,” Crouch said. “The government passes these huge grant bills and programs without a plan for how it will work. The demand for employees exists and I don’t know if it is people who are making more to stay home or if there just are not enough employees to go around right now. What I would say to anyone who is not working is that this is the time to write your own ticket because you are the one in demand. In September, when benefits end, you will be among many others vying for these jobs and employers are not going to be offering big bonuses then.”
Crouch also said that KSI has developed an employee recognition program, offering current employees awards and gifts to recognize how hard they are working in an effort to keep morale high.
Mark Dissinger, General Manager of United States Cold Storage, is facing the same issues that Crouch faces at KSI.
“United States Cold Storage is a vital part of the nationwide food chain,” Dissinger said. “Along with every other business, we are struggling to find people and are continuing to look and find ways to recruit new while, at the same time, keep the people we have as satisfied as we can with the current working conditions. Given that we are a little short-handed, my guys have been putting in long hours to pick up the slack. We let them know they are appreciated every chance we get. I will bring in Schlabach’s ice cream truck as a treat or a food truck or a special luncheon or something as simple as donuts to let them know we appreciate their hard work and that we are continuing to do our best to recruit talent to come in and join our team.”
Dissinger stated that his company is looking for warehouse employees with salaries that range from $16 to $16.75 per hour depending on the shift. United States Cold Storage did not have to furlough or lay off any employees as their industry is necessary to keep the food chain moving.
“We did slow down, but all of our employees are considered essential, and we kept working, continuing to work as the restrictions are lifted and we become busier,” Dissinger said. “We train and certify all of our employees on the forklifts but having forklift experience is definitely a plus. We also have an awesome benefit package related to healthcare, a generous PTO plan as well as a 401k plan. We are currently running two shifts – 11:00 PM to 8:30 AM and 7:30 AM to close which we try to make 6:30 PM. Because we are short-staffed, we are working a bit longer.”
According to Dissinger, it is hard to pinpoint what is causing the shortage of employees. He believes there are many factors at play, including unemployment benefits, it being the summer or other things that he believes could be debated for hours.
“It certainly isn’t for lack of work as we have plenty of work for anyone willing to get in with a strong company that offers great benefits and nationwide exposure,” Dissinger said. “Speaking for our company that operates 43 locations nationwide, we all share the same struggles when it comes to personnel. Staffing isn’t just a challenge in our freezer warehouse industry, it is a challenge across all industries.”
Dissinger explained that United States Cold Storage is offering an in-house referral bonus program to encourage employees to get others they know to come on board. Although there have been applicants that were not a good fit for the company, Dissinger stated that they look at every applicant to see where they may find a fit for them.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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