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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1997

Labor crunch will continue in ’97

It’s a troubling paradox.

More people should mean a larger labor force, right? Not necessarily.

Businesses in Northern Colorado — retail, manufacturing, high tech, construction, agricultural included – tout success and growth. Population has increased rapidly during the last couple of years, theoretically increasing the labor pool.

Nevertheless, as the economy enters 1997, most businesses are dismayed that the demand for labor is greater than the supply of workers, causing them to seek more-creative hiring and training solutions to close the disparity.

Anticipation of a more educated and readily available work force in the area based on increased growth resulted in lower wages; but the unanticipated labor demand has made those available workers seemingly less likely to hold allegiance to a lower-paying job, say business owners.

“Throughout Northern Colorado, there are shortages of labor,´ said Ann Garrison, associate professor of economics at the University of Northern Colorado. “The service sector has grown so very rapidly that the demand is over the supply. Wages are not very attractive, and there is a revolving door” on the labor force.

Garrison said the retail and manufacturing trades are not dissimilar in comparison.

She suggested that the lower wages offered to mostly entry-level or lower-skilled workers – and the increased cost of living in Northern Colorado with all its growth — has encouraged the work force to keep an eye open for better pay.

“People are not retiring as early; they are seeking second and third careers,” she said. “They are doing it by necessity.”

Bill Argo, president of the Greeley/Weld Economic Development Action Partnership, noted two problems concerning labor.

“The industry needs have changed a lot,” Argo said. “There are plenty of people looking for jobs, but they do not have the proper credentials to fill those jobs.”

With welfare reform, more people are looking for jobs and are re-entering the work place, Argo said.

“The goals (for the labor force) are to have higher-paying jobs” to counter the cost of living, and to include those welfare-reform people in the labor market, he said.

A business owners’ think-tank formed a year ago to address the question of labor shortage, said Dick Wesolowski, director of human resources for Eastman Kodak Co.’s Colorado Division in Windsor. The organization was called the Northern Colorado Work Force Issues Alliance.

Wesolowski said other organizations such as the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and Fort Collins Economic Development Corp. also participated.

“We collectively decided to focus on the work force coming out of high school [in Greeley and Fort Collins],” Wesolowski said.

Businesses met with school boards in both areas and discussed the needs of businesses and the basic skill requirements they were looking for in their entry-level labor force.

The result appears to be a focus on basic mathematical skills, teamwork and problem solving, Wesolowski said.

Although the alliance is no longer meeting, the group could gather again to look at this and other issues, he said.

“There is a labor shortage across the United States as well as in the Greeley area,” acknowledged K. T. Miller, spokeswoman for Monfort Inc. in Greeley.

Addressing improved safety and employee relations are two ways Monfort is focusing on retention programs to keep their labor force, Miller said.

David Carson, president of CBW Automation, a Fort Collins engineering and manufacturing automation machinery business, said the need for skilled workers is higher than supply.

“It affects workers’ expectations of employers; they’re higher,” Carson said. “It’s a seller’s market.”

Carson said his company employs a wide gamut of labor, including office/accounting personnel, engineers, machinists, and welders.

While Carson said CBW Automation’s human-resources department hires the company’s permanent staff, a hiring service is used for temporary employee assistance.

Training and worker preparation changes with the times.

Any more, it is not too out-of-the-ordinary for a “temporary” employment service, to handle both tasks, essentially becoming the extended hiring arm of a company.

In fact, Kathy Egan, owner/operator of Express Personnel Services in Greeley, said that about half of the company’s placements will eventually go into full-time employment with one of the companies contracting with them.

“The biggest change overall in the last five years is the extreme increase in risk-management areas, in physical and drug-screening areas,” Egan said of employment providers.

Employer responsibilities have resulted in more-intensive screening.

Along with a physical and drug screening, potential employees take manual dexterity tests and listening/understanding tests. Basic, essential skills are emphasized. Custom orientations, pre-training classes and attitudinal training are offered. More-specific clerical and labor-oriented training is also available, depending on the needs of a particular company.

Egan said that four to six years ago, 90 percent of Express’ placements were individual temporary projects, while now 80 percent of Express’ placements reflect staff hiring pools, including “special-project staffing, high-season staffing, all-year staffing.”

“We are predominantly client-driven,” Egan said.

One of the complaints she hears from her clients is that some workers just don’t make it in to work.

“The most common, universal request is for people who show up for work, who won’t up and quit,” Egan said. “I have a great respect for the industrial worker … These people want to do a good job, and there is enormous personal pressure and financial pressure on these people. But some of them don’t know how the system works.”

Aims Community College in Greeley teaches the basic skills needed to be a viable member of the work force.

“We recognize these are major problems which cut across all of our businesses,´ said Dick Wood, dean of continuing education at Aims. “They are stealing one another’s employees. (The college) wants to increase the (employment) base, identify the skills that are needed, so we know how to upgrade the work force that’s needed.”

The program is called “Work Keys,” and it instills such skills as reading, writing, arithmetic, listening, applied technology, locating information, observation and teamwork. Wood said the college uses tests established by American College Testing, an organization that also provides standardized testing for college entrance.

“The community college is responsive to the needs of business,” Wood said. “We have meetings with the business community. We are told there are major problems with the current work force, that they need to be better prepared.”

Wood said that, like some personnel services, the college offers customized training.

The two concerns imparted to him by area businesses are: There is a shortage of schools to “upgrade” the work force; and the “work ethic” of yesteryear has last ground.

“We have several programs where we ask, ‘How do you work? What does it mean (to be employed)?” Wood said.

It’s a troubling paradox.

More people should mean a larger labor force, right? Not necessarily.

Businesses in Northern Colorado — retail, manufacturing, high tech, construction, agricultural included – tout success and growth. Population has increased rapidly during the last couple of years, theoretically increasing the labor pool.

Nevertheless, as the economy enters 1997, most businesses are dismayed that the demand for labor is greater than the supply of workers, causing them to seek more-creative hiring and training solutions to close the disparity.

Anticipation of a more educated and readily available work force in the area based on increased growth resulted in lower wages; but…

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