BUSINESS QUARTELY: Employers consider challenges to hiring employees

  • Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington. File photo

  • Teleflex in Jaffrey. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

  • A help-wanted sign at Twelve Pine in Peterborough —STAFF PHOTO BY ROWAN WILSON

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/24/2023 9:00:22 AM

Local employers faced challenges attracting and retaining employees in 2022, and this year, employers are forced to consider what it will take to stay staffed.

Mark Cilley, vice president and owner of American Steel & Precast Erectors in Peterborough, said they’ve had difficulty hiring employees since 2021. 

“It’s been a huge struggle for us,” Cilley said. “Recently we may get one or two [applications] in the New England area,” but most applicants are out-of-state and when Cilley responds he often never hears back. 

“We’re looking for full-time employees,” Cilley said, but “at this point I would be fine taking someone who only lasts one to two months. It’s not ideal. You like to have employees who stick with you.”

And even though their wages have gone up $4 to $5 an hour, entry-level employees are paid $25 per hour and supervisors make up to $45 an hour, Cilley doesn’t see things changing in 2023. Cilley said their employees are working physical labor jobs that are hard work. And wages in less-demanding jobs have increased as well. 

Business, on the other hand, hasn’t slowed down. 

“There’s a lot of work,” Cilley said. “We have not seen a slowdown in the work that’s out there. We could take on more work if we had the manpower.”

American Steel & Precast Fabricators has an office in North Carolina in addition to its Peterborough location. In North Carolina, they’ve had a bit more luck hiring people. Occasionally they have had to bring employees from the North Carolina location north to work on projects here.

“Right now we are running 20 employees here out of our New Hampshire office. Come middle of July, we need to be up near 45,” Cilley said.

Before 2018, the company had started offering an employee bounty, where if a current employee refers someone they get a bonus. In 2018, they doubled it. An employee will now receive $1,000 for someone they bring on who stays for six months and $2,000 for a new employee who stays on a year.

Still, they haven’t found a lot of success. Cilley said they’ve recently discussed making this a quarterly incentive.

“The workforce isn’t the same today as it was 10 years ago,” he said.

According to Ken Fox, vice president of human resources at Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington, “The labor market has been disrupted over the last three years – just like our social structure – by COVID.”

He explained that the labor shortage has driven up wages disproportionately. Low-level jobs have experienced a larger wage increase than jobs that were higher-paying. Many baby boomers retired or moved from a career into gig work. Some people took advantage of the housing market and sold their homes, which gave them the economic freedom to move and create a new lifestyle.

“People now value time more than money,” Fox said, and for those professionals who left their jobs, “There’s not enough of a bench to backfill those professions.”

Monadnock Paper Mills and other local manufacturers are all competing for the same workforce.

“There’s only so much out there,” said Fox.

Tony Bryant, human resources manager at Teleflex in Jaffrey, said, “Manufacturing is not always the most attractive,” and for older employees or those with preexisting conditions, “I imagine it was a little scary.”

While many jobs transitioned to remote or hybrid work environments during the pandemic, manufacturing jobs require employees to be there. Therefore, Bryant said Teleflex has worked to incorporate creative incentives that they hope will make it a pleasant place to work. In addition to increasing wages, Teleflex has added flexible shifts. They have a weekend shift and a new midweek shift that runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so employees can have a four-day weekend.

“We try to promote from within often,” Bryant said, to give employees the opportunity to advance their careers.

Teleflex has been actively hiring; it brought on more than 50 people last year and the Jaffrey location has more than 300 employees.

“I know business is really solid right now,” said Bryant. “We want to provide people with reasonable schedules and decent wages. We’ve really tried to make this an attractive place to work.”

Bryant explained that “every single interaction you have with employees coming in all really, really matters to their success.”

Teleflex offers an adoption and paternity benefits to give new parents time off.

For a small business like Twelve Pine, 2022 was a very challenging year. Before the pandemic, the eatery had 15 employees, and last year it got as low as three. It significantly decreased the hours the downtown Peterborough restaurant could be open, and it’s still not back up to 70 hours a week like they were a few years ago.

And they’re not alone.

“You can’t throw a rock in Peterborough without hitting a ‘Help Wanted’ sign,” said owner George Neal.

Neal said this is a tough time for restaurants. Like a manufacturing job, the food-service industry requires people to work in person. During the pandemic, Neal said the older generation of workers were afraid of working.

“That segment of workforce has declined dramatically,” Neal said, “There are a fair amount of people that will never return to the workforce.”

This year, he has noticed it’s not that people are leaving the restaurant industry; people are just never joining. Neal explained that Twelve Pine has been a longtime employer of students and young people looking for their first job. But recently, Neal hasn’t been seeing the same number of high school students applying for jobs. Plus Neal believes the amount of time young people spend online and on their phones has affected their ability to provide professional customer service. Neal says he sees people in interviews who can’t make eye contact and has had experiences at the grocery store where cashiers don’t ask him about his day.

Twelve Pine has increased its wages significantly and offers hours during the day, but it is still looking to hire more employees.

“I can’t honestly forecast what’s going to change,” said Neal.

But he does know downtown Peterborough has changed. Lunch sales have gone down and the after-work customers haven’t been coming in as regularly. Many office workers haven’t returned to the office, and when they’re working remotely, they’re less likely to stop for a coffee or lunch or to pick up dinner on the way home.


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