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Vermont businesses scour for willing workers

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 5:51 PM EDT
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - Many local businesses are on a hiring spree but are having a hard time finding willing Vermonters to fill slots in the current pandemic labor market.

“If we could find 30 more, we’d hire them tomorrow,” said Michele Asch, the vice president of Twincraft Skin Care in Winooski. She says they’ve expanded business during the pandemic and need more workers, but employees are hard to come by. “Unemployment benefits; tax returns are getting sent to people; there’s the stimulus check. I think all of those factors contribute to us not being able to find enough employees.”

The company isn’t the only one. Darn Tough, another Vermont-based manufacturer, is opening up a new location in Waterbury and needs 50 more workers. Seasonal companies like the Vermont Tent company are also feeling the pain. Co-owner Lon Finkelstein thinks it’s because their busy season runs parallel with the current unemployment benefits. “If people don’t even have to seek work till the first week of September, it really puts a huge damper on our prospects,” he said.

In response, many companies are raising wages to lure potential workers, but economist Art Woolf says it’s already been a tough year for many companies. He says staying on unemployment too long can also impact workers. “People lose their skills the longer they’re unemployed, so being unemployed has long-term harm to people,” he said.

Along with boosting pay and other benefits, businesses say they’re also doing their best to accommodate schedules for families, but nothing seems to work. “We’re trying to be as flexible as can be but, there’s just no pool of applicants to even begin with,” Finkelstein said.

Businesses say their current difficulties are compounded by longstanding challenges including a lack of affordable housing and child care. “A lot of Vermonters that I think would come to work for us that live outside of Chittenden County, but they can’t find affordable housing to move here,” Asch said. “We have so many cases where employees can’t even find any child care.” She says in most cases they’re willing to train the right applicant, regardless of their previous skills. “It’s the skill set that’s important. It’s the skillset and the mindset. We can teach people how to do the job.”

“At the end of the day, we needed people yesterday. As long as folks are honest and got integrity and they’re ready to do a hard day’s work, that’s all we need,” said Brian McDonald, the manufacturing director with Darn Tough.

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