It’s a new day for employees in the Bitterroot Valley.
With “now hiring” signs a common sight from one end of Ravalli County to the other, people who work for others are now finding themselves a bit more in the driver’s seat when it comes to looking for a job than they have been in the past.
“We’re starting to see a little bit of a shift in people looking for work,” said Jamie Devlin, president of A2Z Personnel. “Just yesterday, we interviewed four people for jobs. People are starting to look for work, but it’s different than what it was in the past.”
“People actually get to choose where they want to work,” she said. “Employers have to offer them something that they aren’t already getting, whether that be wages, benefits or environment. While there are people looking for work, they are being selective. They don’t just have to take any position they can get anymore.”
Devlin doesn't believe that worker shortage in the Bitterroot Valley is driven by people opting not to return to the workforce and somehow making a go of it on the government's dime.
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“Our unemployment rate is still pretty low,” she said. “It’s been low for the last few years. I think there are some who are still at home, but I don’t think that’s the majority contributing factor to the employee shortage.”
Over the last couple of years, the Bitterroot Valley has grown. The majority of the people who have moved to Ravalli County aren’t looking for work, but they do demand additional services. Businesses have responded to meet that demand.
“It’s created more positions and there’s not the population to fill all of those positions that have been created,” Devlin said. “The only way to fill those gaps is to encourage people to live here and work here.”
If 30% of the people who commute to Missoula to work would find a job in the Bitterroot Valley, Devlin believes much of the worker shortage would be resolved.
“A huge population drives to Missoula every day,” she said. “If we want them to work here and spend their money here, employers have to give them a reason to come and a reason to stay.”
There have been businesses in the Bitterroot who have closed because they can’t find employees, while others have flourished after they’ve hired great talent drawn to a positive work environment, Devlin said.
“Your employees are the ones who make your business a success,” she said. “You need to value them…Times have shifted. Businesses need to change with the times or they’re not going to be in business.”
The Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce is asking businesses to fill out a survey that will help quantify the valley’s need for workers and the kind of help businesses need in finding qualified people, including training that could occur in high schools or the Bitterroot College.
The chamber of commerce’s Jodi Wright said the survey went out last week and they’ve already received responses from a wide variety of businesses looking for employees.
“We’ve had responses from fly shops, software companies, utility companies, accounting firms and everything in between,” Wright said. “They are from all walks of life and they are looking for people to employ.”
“We want to do what we can to help employers find qualified candidates,” she said. “We think gathering this information could be helpful in addressing this issue.”
Wright hopes that other businesses in the valley will fill out the survey and return it by Friday, Oct. 8.
The Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce is helping to put together a workforce development team. Wright said the information gathered in the survey will be helpful in recognizing employer needs.
“It’s really important that we know where we are sitting right now to help us plan for where we can go in the future,” Wright said.
The survey can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/BITTERROOT_EMPLOYER_NEEDS.