2018-04-26 / Life in Leelanau

TALKING RETENTION

Business owners discuss latest strategies for finding, keeping summer help
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


NO EXCUSES. Teens often ride bikes to work - and a flat tire is no excuse. Attendees at the Teen Job Fair listened as they were taught how to change a bike tire so they could get to work on time if they’re ever faced with a flat. NO EXCUSES. Teens often ride bikes to work - and a flat tire is no excuse. Attendees at the Teen Job Fair listened as they were taught how to change a bike tire so they could get to work on time if they’re ever faced with a flat. Retention is a key piece to solving Leelanau’s summer staffing puzzle. And local business owners are working hard right now to fit those pieces together.

Bluebird Restaurant owner Skip Telgard said the Leland eatery focuses on retaining workers, who have already been acclimated to the restaurant requirements and demands. He and other business owners spoke — and recruited — last week at a “teen job fair” sponsored by the Leland Township Library.

“The most valuable concept that we have learned through the years is ‘staff retention,’” Telgard said.

“Creating a positive and fruitful work environment is the most important thing an employer can do. When kids come back year after year, we know we’ve done things right. Returnees don’t require training from the ground up, and the camaraderie of having people return every year is invaluable.”


HELPFUL HINTS. Leelanau teens listen intently as business owners explain how to handle a job interview. Advice given included giving eye contact, having clean hands and fingernails and knowing information like social security numbers and phone numbers for references. HELPFUL HINTS. Leelanau teens listen intently as business owners explain how to handle a job interview. Advice given included giving eye contact, having clean hands and fingernails and knowing information like social security numbers and phone numbers for references. But holding onto employees isn’t enough in today’s job market to keep the Bluebird humming. Telgard explained that the restaurant, a Leland icon, hires staff from other parts of the world to fill summer vacancies. Foreign students are hired through the J-1 Student VISA program.

“There simply aren’t enough people in the labor force to staff the avalanche of summer businesses that open up in the spring now, so we have been exploring other options in order to operate our businesses,” he said.

As a result, summer visitors to the Bluebird may be served by students from Lithuania, Russia or Turkey.

That’s not to say Telgard isn’t looking for local help. There are openings for many positions.

“We will continue hiring locals right up until summer,” Telgard said.

Business owners and managers hoping to hire people for openings in housekeeping, retail and food service had an opportunity to talk with the young adults at the job fair.

Sylvan Inn general manager and innkeeper, Jen Reutter, said attending events like the Teen Job Fair were part of her strategy to find summer help.

“Workers are tough to find,” she said. “In the past, word of mouth has pulled us through. But this year, we’ve seriously ramped up the efforts. We provide housing and pay $13 to $15 an hour with flexible shifts that allow people to work as little or as much as they want.”

Two other job fair business attendees, restaurant manager Tony West from Bogey’s 19th Hole at the Leland Lodge and owner innkeeper Tammi Koehler from The Whaleback Inn, said they value high school aged staff.

“I’m pretty happy about the applicants we get,” West said. “It’s great if you can get them at 14 or 15 years old and then train and continue working with them.”

Koehler added that The Whaleback Inn provides students with valuable first-time experience in the work place.

“Typically, we get a lot of high school aged staff and we love that,” she said. “We are a lot of people’s first job. It’s an easy job.”

The event provided coaching for teens as business owners such as Bret Crimmins from Cedar’s Blue Moon ice cream spoke of successful interview techniques.

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor uses incentive programs to encourage staff retention, especially for high school and college-aged workers.

Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland said the company has kicked off new incentives to help retention and recruitment.

One of Cherry Republic’s retention programs helps high school or college students save for college expenses. “If they work for us, the first year if they save $1 an hour, then Cherry Republic will match with $1. The second year, if they save $1, Cherry Republic will match with $1.50,” Sutherland said. And each year a student returns to work for Cherry Republic, the “match” increases by 50 cents until the ceiling is reached at $4 for every dollar saved. With a minimum wage of $11 per hour, a dollar match brings these young staffers to a minimum of $10 an hour - still not a bad wage.

Sutherland said high school workers are a favorite hire. “We do love a junior or sophomore in high school because that’s an employee we can have for potentially seven years. And after they’ve worked here that long, they’re running the place by their seventh summer,” he said.

Cherry Republic has also found success in hiring students from overseas. Sutherland said this year they are looking forward to welcoming employees from Romania, Jamaica and Hungary. “We work through an agency that does screening, questioning, English proficiency and make sure they have the character,” he said.

Despite those efforts, Sutherland said Cherry Republic needs more help. Approximately 200 employees are needed between Glen Arbor and Traverse City stores.

“We’re growing a lot and we continue to need more people. Last year, our retail staff had to help in the factory.”

Sutherland estimated the company was 12 to 14 staff members short last year.

“One issue we do have is in the off-season, folks struggle to find work. Our answer isn’t to find more employees to stay here. Many of them will be college students who will go home. We want to protect those employees who have year-round work.”

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