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PROGRESS 2022: Industries get creative to tackle worker shortage

News Photo by Justin A. Hinkley MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena is seen recently from Duck Park. The hospital is one of several Northeast Michigan employers that’s had to get creative to overcome a shortage of workers.

ALPENA — Few business sectors in the Alpena area have escaped an ongoing employee shortage that negatively impacts production, pushes prices higher, and strains health and public safety services, local officials and proprietors said.

From nurses, lawyers, school bus drivers, waiters and waitresses, manufacturing employees, and police officers, Alpena-area businesses collectively have more job vacancies than there are people to fill them — or at least people willing to fill them.

When the tide will turn and more people will begin to earn paychecks is unknown, but businesses are doing their best to recruit help, including getting creative to bring people in and keep the talent they have.

Northeast Michigan’s unemployment rate at the end of November, the most recent month data is available, was about 5.6%, compared to 7.5% in January. The state reported 1,396 people across Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Alcona counties were looking for work around Thanksgiving.

Still, several area businesses report challenges finding suitable employees, especially in highly skilled positions such as attorneys, teachers, and nurses.

And that’s having an impact.

The Alpena County Sheriff’s Office, for example, had to temporarily pull deputies from road patrol to staff the county jail amid a corrections officer shortage. The shortage forced the county board to open up the county’s wallets to offer higher wages to lure in new employees and make sure those still on payroll remained so.

The police shortage also plagues Alcona County, said Scott Stephenson, the county sheriff.

Stephenson said he wishes he could hire four more officers, but a competitive job market and few qualified candidates keep him from supplying officers for specialty roles such as detective.

The county’s aging population offers few potential candidates, and younger residents tend to move elsewhere to pursue careers, Stephenson said, echoing similar sentiments from officials in other industries.

Last year, MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena felt the effects of a national nurse shortage sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dozens of medical staffers were out sick and patients endured long waits in the emergency room for staffed beds to open up.

So the hospital system had to get creative.

MyMichigan Health, the Midland-based parent company of the Alpena hospital, coordinates with Alpena Community College to fill nursing vacancies through tuition assistance for trainees who promise to stay local upon graduation, said Julie Ward, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the health system.

Ward said MyMichigan also hired a recruitment firm specifically to draw people to Alpena, and the hospital now offers an in-hospital, on-the-job training program for people without health care backgrounds who want to help nurses care for patients.

Still, the hospital needs nurses in several departments, but its current staff goes all-out to make sure patients get the care they need.

“When staffing is tight, they make it work,” she said.

In 2021, Alpena County businesses employed 15,705 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with government, health care, retail, and manufacturing offering the most jobs.

Manufacturing job openings in the Alpena area continue to increase.

Jackie Krawczak, corporate representative for staffing firm ESI Inc., said most — if not all — of ESI’s clients are looking for additional help. She said the companies increased wages and benefits and provide paid training and opportunities for employees to get promotions and higher compensation.

She said we have an employee shortage for a lot of reasons, including a lack of housing and child care, the availability of public assistance, and the legalization of marijuana, which reduces the number of people who can pass needed drug screenings.

“It is the perfect storm of a lot of factors, and, right now, it is a challenge to get anyone to want to work,” Krawczak said.

News staff writer Julie Riddle contributed to this report.

Alpena workforce, by the numbers

A look at the number of jobs by industry in across Alpena County in 2021, the most recent year data was available:

Farming: 424

Forestry, fishing, etc.: 103

Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction: 80

Utilities: 69

Construction: 815

Manufacturing: 1,879

Wholesale trade: 475

Retail trade: 2,267

Transportation, warehousing: 406

Information: 122

Finance, insurance: 622

Real estate: 663

Professional, scientific, technical: 584

Education: 126

Health care: 1,661

Arts, entertainment, recreation: 215

Accommodation, food services: 1,046

Other services: 1,069

Government: 2,557

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Unemployment

The unemployment rate across Alpena, Presque Isle,Montmorency, and Alcona counties each month in 2022. November was the most recent data available.

January: 7.53%

February: 7.94%

March: 6.46%

April: 5.96%

May: 5.61%

June: 6.42%

July: 6.11%

August: 5.8%

September: 5.03%

October: 4.98%

November: 5.57%

Source: Michigan Department ofTechnology,

Management, & Budget

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