Employers at job fair hope to attract workers with opportunities to grow

More than 100 employers gathered Thursday at the Northwest Montana Job and Opportunity Fair to reach out to potential employees in a competitive job market.

Although needs and vacancies varied across industries and sectors, employers expressed many of the same concerns: a small hiring pool and difficulty hiring or retaining employees due to rising housing costs. Many say they are offering new benefits, sign-up bonuses, and other incentives for filling vacancies.

The event, hosted by the Daily Inter Lake, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Flathead Valley Community College and Job Service Kalispell, took place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds.

Logan Health is hiring in nearly every department, noted the hospital’s recruiter Amy Quinn, who said hiring registered nurses will continue to be her biggest challenge this year. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a nationwide shortage of registered nursing staff.

Quinn said Logan Health is hiring all sorts of entry-level jobs starting at $16 an hour. She said the health care provider is interested in helping its employees advance and offering opportunities to help them upskill.

“We’re trying to train our own people,” Quinn said. “So if you step into an entry-level position, you can grow anywhere. Once you go with us, we’ll get $3,000 a year in tuition reimbursement. So we also work with local colleges and help people become what they want to be and also help fund that.”

Technology company Applied Materials takes a similar approach, hiring young professionals, training them, and giving them opportunities to stay and grow.

Planning and logistics manager Betsy Walhert said the company is hiring in logistics, warehousing, shipping, planning and production.

“We want to advance from within so they can grow into positions in their careers and benefit from tuition reimbursement,” she said. “I have two people on my team at the moment who started from different positions, worked full-time and went to school on the side.”

The company’s general manager for Montana told the Daily Inter Lake in November that Applied Materials plans to add up to 200 new jobs at Kalispell this year by expanding into a new manufacturing facility in Evergreen. The other two facilities in Montana are on Reserve Drive and Birch Grove Road.

ANOTHER BIG Employer in Flathead Valley is looking for Weyerhaeuser to fill vacancies.

Trisha Federico, senior human resources business partner, said the company is hiring for both its Columbia Falls and Kalispell locations, but there are some factors that make hiring difficult.

One of those is housing, she said, noting that they have hired people from abroad who eventually pull out after researching the cost of housing in the area. It is also difficult to hire them for their night shifts.

“We’re a 24/7 operation in Columbia Falls so that’s challenging and we’re just competing with other employers in the area on a somewhat limited candidate pool and it’s a candidate market,” Federico said.

Weyerhaeuser’s Flathead Valley offices have focused their efforts on hiring local people who are already based here. Federico said the company also partners with local schools and creates internship opportunities to find new ways of hiring in a competitive market.

Other employers, such as The Wave in Whitefish, try to be flexible in filling their entry-level positions, but Human Resources Manager Lisa Owens, who has worked at the fitness center for 17 years, said one reason housing is difficult to find for employees win and hold.

“I know it affects our ability to bring in our entry-level positions, and even senior positions that we have available are challenging because they can’t find housing,” she said. “Even our seasonal workers in the winter have to emigrate because they can’t find a place to live in the summer months, so we’ve lost some seasonal workers as a result.”

ONE SEASON Employer preparing for the summer season is Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, which employs about 100 people.

Dax VanFossen, the lodge’s brand ambassador, said the lodge is trying to hire college-age students and also provide them with housing to avoid a hurdle many other companies looking to hire year-round can’t.

“So we’re actually in good shape at the moment,” he said. “We don’t expect that to have too many problems with that this year and I think housing plays a big part in that.”

VanFossen said most of their vacancies have already been filled, but they are still looking for positions for a sous chef, head chef, housekeeper and an office manager/gift shop clerk.

HR director Kristen Lee said she also describes her ability to fill positions, beginning hiring in December, when college students are home for winter break, and solidifying steps for the coming year.

Pursuit, one of the largest employers in Glacier National Park, is also looking forward to a busy summer season. People and culture generalist Lani Mobley said the company is hiring for seasonal roles at the company’s many lodges, but particularly in recent years it has proven difficult to find applicants for hospitality and food and beverage positions .

“Culinary was the biggest struggle, but it was slow and steady. We have really built a great team over the years and have great management. But to really fill those seasonal spots at the park, culinary and dining facilities have to catch up last,” Mobley said.

She said the company offers an end-of-season bonus for people who stay through the end of their contract, as well as other incentives to try to keep applicants interested.

HAS EDUCATION is another sector severely affected by staff shortages of all kinds, from teachers to bus drivers.

Harlow’s Bus Services’ Sandy Evenson said the transportation company is offering a $2,000 sign-up bonus to commercial driver’s license holders and $1,000 to those who still need one. The contractor will supply, among other things, buses and drivers to the Kalispell Public Schools.

She said because bus driving is a part-time job, it’s difficult to find interested candidates.

“This job comes with a lot of responsibility and you have to follow a lot of policies that are always changing — they’re creating more and more restrictions and rules,” Evenson said.

Evenson said bus driving can be a very rewarding job when drivers develop relationships with students and watch them grow. But the challenging job is hard to fill — and like so many other employers, Evenson also cited affordable housing as another reason hiring was difficult.

This story has been updated to indicate that the job fair was sponsored by Daily Inter Lake, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Flathead Valley Community College and Job Service Kalispell.

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