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Perham continues to be hit with labor shortage

While Perham's labor shortage has been a hot topic since prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

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Perham's Main Street (File photo)

Perham is one town in Otter Tail County that has, and continues to, stand out in terms of labor shortage, said Sarah Schake, an independent contractor who works with the Otter Tail County Community Development Agency. While the town's labor shortage has been a hot topic since prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

Schake cited multiple reasons for the current labor shortage, particularly in Perham. She believes it has a lot to do with the types of employment Perham has available. Factories need manufacturers. The hospital needs health care workers. These are industries that already struggle with labor shortage.

Schake also said that many people in the Baby Boomer Generation are retiring, and there aren't as many people coming into the work force in comparison to those who are leaving it. A lot of people also had to leave their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic to look after their children during distance learning and are now struggling to find positions at the same level from where they were prior to taking a break.

While the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in unemployment, Schake said unemployment rates are now at about the same level as they were prior to the pandemic. Unfortunately, this means that places such as Perham are still struggle to find workers.

"(Labor shortage) isn't a problem that's unique to Perham or Otter Tail County," Schake said. "But it's something the county is looking at." Once unemployment rates started to improve following the original COVID-19 outbreak, a conversation began between county workers on how to get people back to a status of employment appropriate for their previous experience and skills.

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So, Schake, along with Otter Tail County's rural rebound initiative coordinator, Erik Osberg, started to create ottertaillakescountry.com/jobs . Schake described this website as a single aggregated feed of jobs. Robots crawl through the internet and pull jobs from other places, putting them on this singular website for employment opportunities in Otter Tail County. At the moment, there are nearly 1,000 job listings in this single place.

Schake said this website eliminates an extra step to get a job listed, so employers don't need to contact the county to get it posted. It also gives those searching for a job in the county a singular place to look.

"Everyone is really focused on this labor shortage challenge," Schake said. "They want to make sure they're (using hiring techniques) correctly."

Several employers have started utilizing hiring incentives, such as giveaways. One of these employers is Spherion, which has a branch located in Perham. Karen Witzel, the vice president of Spherion Perham, describes the organization as one that matches candidates with employers. They help maximize employers in their search for candidates.

Witzel mentioned that she and Spherion have been very aware of the challenges COVID-19 is bringing employers. In an effort to attract workers back to the job market, Spherion recently introduced their sweepstakes. Through Sept. 13, Spherion Staffing will be giving away over 150 prizes to their employees such as MacBook Air Laptops, Apple Watches, flat screen televisions and a Ford Mustang. Employees earn an entry into the sweepstakes for each week they work during the two-month period.

Witzel said that, in order to attract workers, employers need to offer competitive wages, benefits and perks. Schake also mentioned that, in order to attract workers, employers need to tell a story.

"You can't just put an ad in the paper," Schake said. "Employers really have to tell the story of why someone should work (with them)."

Schake also said that many people move to Otter Tail County for a lifestyle change. Because of that, employers need to talk about more than just their wages. They need to advertise what's unique about their organization and location.

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She believes that, while Perham is still struggling with labor shortage, things are starting to change or the better. "Things are looking positive," she said.

If you or someone you know is looking for a job in Otter Tail County, feel free to visit the new aggregated employment site at ottertaillakescountry.com/jobs .

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