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Roslyn KuninIt is August. Fall clothes and back-to-school items appear in the stores. So do help wanted signs, as students leave their summer jobs hoping to enjoy the last bit of summer before heading back to their studies. Employers are faced with the task of filling those newly vacated positions.

Staffing will be a major challenge, not only for those who employ summer students, but also for just about every employer. High housing costs make it hard for people to find homes, and therefore live and work, in areas like Vancouver. Demographics remind us that few young people are entering the labour force and many older people are seeking to leave it. Post baby boom generations expect to have a life, as well as a job.

The person trying to hire is no longer in the driver’s seat. Some job postings may still attract hundreds of applicants, but few are qualified. They may lack the positive attitudes needed for entry level service jobs, the skills for technical work or the specific experience that high level positions require. And a growing number of positions are being vacated by experienced workers reaching an age where they want to retire.

Surveys of employers reveal successful tactics that work both in retaining the good workers on staff and attracting those who are needed. The first is flexibility. Saying this is the job, these are the hours, here is the location and those are your duties is so 20th century. To get and keep good people, companies must be flexible on all these dimensions. In same cases, it may mean asking, does the job have to exist at all, at least in the way it has been structured in the past? Is there a way to make it more appealing? In a pinch, could it be automated or outsourced?

With today’s connectivity, specifying hours of work and/or location is often unnecessary. Many workers can be measured by results. Sales and most white collar work fall into this category. Were the sales targets achieved? Are the financial statements accurate and on time? If so, does it matter if the work was done in the office or in a coffee shop, at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m.?

There are times when conditions require privacy or in-person meetings, but these should not put a constraint on all employees all the time.

Finding and hiring the right people in the first place goes a long way to keeping an organization staffed and functioning. It is hard work and time-consuming to sort through hundreds of applicants and expensive to hire people to do it for you. However, there are some people who can do a good job finding suitable workers for free or for a small cost. These are your current workers.

Your staff want to work at your firm or they would not be there. They know the job requirements. They would not recommend any positions to people who are not competent or would not be easy to work with since they, themselves, are going to be stuck working with these people. And, since studies have determined that a major factor in workers staying on is the job is having a friend (or relative) at work, any people hired through the ‘friends and family’ route will likely stay on. So a small bonus to employees who suggest those who become successful hires can be a very good investment.

Of course, this only works if the current staff want to stay. When asked why people left a position, the most common answer is a bad boss. Investing in front line supervisors or being a good boss yourself goes a long way in keeping jobs filled. Don’t be like the coffee shop manager who put a new worker on an eight-hour shift with no training, no breaks and no co-workers who spoke her language. Needless to say, that person did not show up for a second day.

Here is a more positive example about how being a good boss and being flexible works. A competent and crucial senior executive told his boss he wanted to retire. Finances were not an issue and he wanted to spend more time with family and friends. The wise boss said, “You don’t want to retire. You want to work a three-day week so every weekend is a long four-day weekend and you want to be able to take all the vacation time you like.”

That person did not retire.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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