Trouble Hiring? Creative Ways to Attract New Workers in a Tight Labor Market

The 2021 post-COVID labor market is affected by worker stimulus, return to work fears and enhanced unemployment benefits. Here are some ways to navigate these challenging workforce issues and attract fresh talent.

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As business owners compete with unprecedented talent shortages and enhanced unemployment benefits, finding talent is becoming a full-time job. For small businesses, competing with large corporations that offer cash just to show up for an interview is not an option. With more than half the states cancelling enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits, hiring rates are rising, but not fast enough to keep pace with need. 

The challenge for business is to attract and retain talent in a difficult market. With today’s conditions, it will take a bit of creativity, but these tricks are useful no matter what the talent pool has to offer. Consider hiring from a worker’s point of view, and adjust your recruitment strategy accordingly.

Tips to attract new hires and candidates

  • Work with unemployment benefits

Recognizing enhanced unemployment benefits are making it challenging to hire in some areas, businesses are turning to part-time or job-share opportunities to transition the unemployed back to the workforce without loosing their benefits. Under most state and federal programs workers are allowed to earn some portion of their state unemployment benefit if they work part-time and can continue to receive the federally funded additional weekly stipend. For many, this is a $300 per week bonus for working part-time.

If part-time isn’t an option, job-sharing is another way to attract talent. Two workers share the same job, each part-time, both collecting a salary, the reduced state unemployment compensation,  and the additional federal money. For some, the part-time or job-sharing compensation is higher than or equal to full unemployment benefits. 

Check the rules in your state, but if you let candidates know you’re willing to allow them to work part-time or job-share while they continue to receive their benefit, you may find many workers ready to transition back to the job.

For some, the part-time or job-sharing compensation is higher than or equal to full unemployment benefits. 

  • Match their federal benefits amounts temporarily

If you really can’t compete with unemployment benefits payments, consider matching them temporarily to attract talent. There are likely many workers who want to work but have made the difficult decision to stay home because they’re simply earning more doing so. That’s just fiscal responsibility. 

You can entice these candidates by letting them know you’re willing to match what the state and federal government is providing until the benefit runs out. Ask them for proof of current earnings, and let them know when the clock runs out of the additional federal benefits, their hourly wage will go down to normal rate. 

  • Pay more for employee referrals

Most organizations have some form of employee referral program, but in difficult times it may be wise to up the ante. If you typically pay a bonus to employees that refer a new hire, consider increasing the amount. Many companies are even offering an hourly increase to existing employees for every hour the new hire works, up to a certain amount. You may suggest a $1 an hour bump per hour for every hour referred hires work, up to $1,000 or more. Another bonus could be a set amount once the new hire has worked a specific amount of hours/days. 

Either way, you’ll want the referral bonus to be based on the new hire actually starting the job and putting in sufficient hours to make it worthwhile for your company. Getting your employees to search our friends, family members (even their own teenaged children) should be worth their time as well.


  • Look for outside help

Signs in the windows, ads on the job boards and employee referrals still not netting any talent? Look local for assistance. There are community groups, veteran’s organizations, outreach programs for teens, ex-felons and counselors in the disabled community that are eager to help place workers at your business. Many work with your company to assist with on-the-job training, some will even pre-train potential hires in their own facilities so they can hit the ground running on day one.

Your company may find valuable talent as it assists the community when you look local for help. In many cases, there are tax incentives and benefits available to help pay for training costs, and even tax credits that subsidize payroll. From entry-level to highly skilled labor, community outreach is a great resource for a steady applicant stream. 

From entry-level to highly skilled labor, community outreach is a great resource for a steady applicant stream. 

  • Consider offering what the government doesn’t

You may not be able to compete with unemployment compensation when it comes to paid time off, but you might be able to pique interest with health insurance coverage. 

In 2020, group health insurance cost business about $14,563 annually for family coverage, with the business paying about 70% of the premiums. For single coverage, the rate was about $6,000 per year, with the organization typically paying over 80% of the cost of coverage

That may seem high, but  if you’re paying $5 or more over your typical hourly wage, at 40 hours per week you’re already spending more than $10,000 extra per year for each employee. If insurance benefits will attract talent at a lower rate, you’ll be ahead of the game. When you factor in that coverage is tax deductible, you’re in an even better position to provide the most requested benefit job seekers report. 

  • Source workers from colleges and schools

Your local high school may have a work-study program that can help you find part-timers who need to stay on the job to get school credit. These can be a great resource. Your local community college certainly has work/study programming, and are anxious to collaborate with business in their area to promote their programs and place students who graduate. 

In many instances community colleges will work to create skilled labor educational/work programs that can turn into internships and permanent hires. Internships aren’t just for skilled trades anymore. Insurance companies are working with community colleges to create work/study programs for claims adjusters. Other companies are creating programs for retail, restaurant and IT. If they have a culinary program you may be able to find line cooks and chefs. Some have retail merchandising programs; others offer accounting. Talk to career counselors right in your own back yard – they may have a program that suits your immediate needs or be able to create a new program tailored to your business.  

If you’re putting a sign in your window, you might want to tell job seekers to ‘apply now before the rush’!


The end is nigh

Enhanced unemployment benefits are scheduled to end in early September, which is welcome news for businesses across the country. If you’re putting a sign in your window, you might want to tell job seekers to ‘apply now before the rush!’ In the interim, make sure to take good care of the employees you do have – they’re the ones keeping you afloat for now. Offer them bonuses and salary bumps commensurate with what you’re paying new hires to assure they stay on the job until the talent shortage ends. And make sure they know how valued and appreciated they are. 


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