An honest plea for guidance from an area business owner sparked a flurry of online conversation, filled with honesty, advice, commiseration, rough perspectives, and a hefty dose of abrasive snap backs.

Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash
Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash

The question posed in the ever-popular Secret Bozeman Facebook community garnered well over 500 responses...many of which were pure snark. However, there were some very interesting, well thought out gems of advice and perspective that answered the original question: 

"We are at a loss. We are a small business that can't find help. I know this isn't new to anyone in the valley but the young employees we do have keep calling out, making excuses and just not showing up. We haven't received any new applications and so we feel trapped. Usually, as a business, if your employees do these things you talk with them and if it doesn't get better you phase them out or let them go. We don't have anyone else to help cover when they leave and feel like we have to keep them. What are other businesses doing in this situation?"

This very question has plagued Bozeman area business owners for months on end. What is concerning is that aside from a select few businesses, the situation has not seemed to improve at all. Service and hospitality industries have been two of the most impacted by the current hiring crisis/labor shortage.

If anything, it has become worse...almost snowballing into dangerous territory for both owners and patrons. The danger being the additional closure of stores and services. So what were the most interesting responses? Bozeman certainly chimed in with their two cents...some quite helpful and insightful, others not so much:

  • "We live in a college town with record enrollment. There should be plenty of individuals to fill many of the open positions."
  • "This is a parenting problem. It seems like some young kids have never been taught accountability or anything of the sort. Hopefully they will learn and one day realize they need a job to live."
  • "We asked our current guys if they wanted us to get different benefits and they wanted a raise instead. They got raises. We had individual meetings with each and asked what they wanted. Open conversations with your people has been helpful for us."
  • "...a shift in the American workforce away from, not just from retail/food service/customer service, but from all industries that deal with the public."
  • "I know it's hard as a small business to offer benefits but consider working with a local childcare facility to subsidize employee child care."
  • "...tricky thing here is that if those in the younger workforce who are only seeking fulfillment in their job that don’t show up no matter what the pay is..."
  • "One business with several locations in the valley is Murdochs. It seems they are never in short supply of cheerful helpful employees there. I think a lot come off of the ranch and have an ingrained work ethic."
  • "It's frankly a lot more complicated that "people don't wanna work"..."
  • "I feel terrible for small business right now. They're just trying to make it and trying to keep up with the wages that anybody else is paying even (major fast food chain) is ridiculous."
  • "also, boomers have retired out of the workforce"
  • "As a small business owner, we found that how you support and treat your employees is the best course of action. We provide lunches, rides if needed..."
  • "Any time I've heard businesses complaining about this, I look at their wages and usually find the answer"
  • "when you don’t have enough respect to show up for an interview, you never will know if it would be worth it or not" (from another frustrated small business owner)
  • "Montana is at full employment. So it can't be a work ethic issue."
  • "Hire older people!! Many retired people would like to supplement their retirement income while they can and able to work. With great working habits!"
  • "We have found that it doesn’t matter how much you are willing to pay or how well you take care of employees, they still make their own schedule, coming and going as they want and their high demands are hard to listen to."
  • "We've been employers in the valley for 25 years and we've never seen anything like this before."
  • "Advocate for affordable housing. If this valley can get that under control, EVERYBODY will benefit. Business owners and employees."
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Big business tracks workforce size very closely. Although the original poster of the question was speaking about SMALL businesses and their challenges filling position, larger companies looking to relocate, or open a Montana location, won't do so unless they feel the store can be staffed. CNBC did a nice job explaining in basic terms what makes a state attractive to businesses.

Brookings also tried to tackle the issue from the immigration policy perspective. Regardless of personal politics, the number of available workers on a NATIONAL level is not aligning with positions needed to be filled. That may not have much to do with our staffing issues locally, but it may play a significant role on a national level.

Examining the math sheds some light. Montana is certainly not the only state in a painful place with employment imbalance. Most agree that cost of living is Bozeman's biggest hurdle at the moment and plays a huge factor in what sort of wage people can afford to pay and/or accept.


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