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One Solution to Staffing in Tight Labor Market

History of industry shows importance of immigrant workers

ROANOKE, Va. — We are once again in an employment cycle where there are more jobs than candidates looking for jobs. This is commonly referred to as a tight labor market. 

There are “help wanted” signs in the windows of a number of businesses that regularly compete in the same labor pool as I would as a laundry manager. 

So, how do I make my entry-level job more attractive than entry-level jobs in other businesses in my area? 

The most common answer is to pay more than the competition, but the truth is salary adjustments made by one employer are quickly matched by others. 

A good benefits package can help to keep employees but does little to attract entry-level workers. They are focused more on the hourly rate than the fringe benefits. Fringe benefits do not make the car payment or pay for food and housing. 

How does a business stand out in this tight labor market and become the preferred place for people to want to work? The first thing is to understand the history of your industry. 

In the vast history of doing laundry in a commercial setting, it has often been staffed by the recent immigrant who needed a job so they could start their American dream. The laundry business is an entry-level job that can be handled effectively by someone who has limited or no English skills. 

This type of employee is used to hard work and poor working conditions. Where an American high school graduate might turn his or her nose up at the physically demanding production and business, a recent immigrant finds it very much to their liking. Their expectations are based on their life experiences, and those have been harder than most of us can imagine. 

Unfortunately, more and more smart business owners are learning about this source of labor, so there is competition for this group as well. 

So, how do you attract this natural source of labor to your business? There are several key groups you need to establish a working relationship with. 

The first would be whatever agency assists legal refugees with relocation and placement in your community. There are agencies in every area that help legal refugees to settle in and find jobs. Establishing a good working relationship with these people can be a key to getting the best new arrivals as they become available.

Of course, it goes without saying that you must treat these recent immigrants fairly and establish a workplace environment that is accepting and tolerant of people with different cultures and languages. 

The second key relationship to develop is with places of worship that provide assistance to recent immigrants. Often these religious communities help by providing English as a second language classes. Another good source of referrals is to develop a relationship with the adult instructor for the local educational system that teaches English as a second language. 

All these groups are trying to improve the life of this targeted group of employees. Part of their mission is to help them find stable, secure employment. That is the very definition of the laundry business: stable, secure and predictable. 

Your hardest hire will be the first non-English speaking employee. Once you have successfully employed one and you have established a training program and a business environment to meet their needs, word-of-mouth will begin to spread and you will get more opportunities. 

When I went to work in Roanoke, Va., for the Carilion Health System, my goal was to become the preferred employer for recent immigrants. I am proud to say that upon my retirement 14 years later I had achieved that goal. Next month’s article will deal with the training of limited or non-English-speaking employees.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].