This is what the shortage of workers looks like for rural staff

  • Rural areas are now more competitive due to the large recession and shortage of workers.
  • Temporary agency leaders in Nebraska, Georgia and Mississippi said they are struggling to fill roles.
  • Job seekers have the upper hand and they do not take jobs that do not mark all their boxes.

The Great Resignation has had an impact on services and communities in large and small cities. Particularly in rural areas, labor shortages have been a challenge for staffing and temp agencies.

main image by Greg Sulentic

Greg Sulentic.

Lent by Greg Sulentic


Rural areas have never been as competitive as they are now, HR executives told Insider, and rural areas face challenges that their more urban counterparts do not have, such as brain drain, the potential for transportation problems and long commutes.

But wages in rural markets are accelerating at a faster pace than in downtown, according to Greg Sulentic, franchise owner and regional developer of Express Pros in Lincoln, Nebraska, who has 25 years of experience in the sector.

Mary Jo Lewis in a light pink shirt

Mary Jo Lewis.

Lent by Mary Jo Lewis.


Mary Jo Lewis, a regional sales manager at Personal Network Staffing in Tupelo, Mississippi, said some employees she works with need to be persuaded to commute to jobs in more isolated locations. “The companies we hire are strategically located in smaller cities. We have large industrial parks, and many of them are in smaller cities,” Lewis said. She works mostly with Tier 1 Toyota parts suppliers and furniture factories in the Northeast Mississippi area.

main image by Renee Rives

Renee Rives.

Lent by Renee Rives


Renee Rives, vice president of sales at Automation Personnel Services, said managers in Dalton and Calhoun, Georgia-run offices have been able to successfully place employees in jobs, but many positions remain open. Occupying trading positions as welding or commercial driving license (CDL) drivers has been even more difficult during the pandemic.

Even with these issues, Sulentic said occupying positions in rural markets is no different than in cities, and there are some employers, such as home care agencies, that offer prices too low to compete with other more lucrative jobs.

He said the shortage of labor is affecting all sectors right now, especially restaurants. Manufacturing, distribution and food processing are usually the “sweet spots” in rural areas, he said. The lower cost of land and labor attracts companies that want to build factories and warehouses, while saving money and finding workers who may have fewer opportunities, but it has also become more challenging to fill these positions in recent months. “I do not think there is one that is not difficult right now, just because of the tight shortage of manpower. The light industry side has certainly become very difficult when it comes to planning and finding talent,” Sulentic said.

An employee market

Sulentic said employees have taken over in the current job market. Lewis has seen a similar pattern in her area. “Employers need to be much more aggressive in their hiring practices. They are now implementing bonuses,” she said.

Employees in her area can now weigh incentive packages against each other, she added. “That’s the biggest difference in what employees themselves are looking for: work-life balance and work culture. Many of the industries around are stepping up to meet this demand,” Lewis said.

Rives said employers in many industries in Georgia are also going up. “We’ve also seen all sorts of additional incentives, such as sign-on bonuses, up to $ 10,000 in some cases,” she said. On average, Rives has seen sign-on bonuses between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000, on top of other incentives like extra pay for perfect weekly participation, breakfast and lunch for all shifts and pay rises from $ 4 to $ 6 per hour.

Ghosting and retention are major issues

Retention is another challenge that employers and staffing agencies now face. The changing scope of the market means that employees’ interest may begin to wane before they even show up for a job.

Rives said ghosting is now more common among new hires – and so is blocking an agency’s number when they receive follow-ups.

Sulentic also sees changes in employee behavior. He said in the past, employees may have filled out job applications or sent resumes and never received a response. Now employees have the power to joke to their employers when they find better jobs.

According to Sulentic, people can apply for a job and appear ready to work, but his agency or their new employer may never hear from them again. His temp agency may call the employee and not be able to reach him. “We know they’ve started another job,” he said.

Surprisingly, employers are not discounting everyone who haunts them. “What used to be a one-strike-and-you-re-out policy has become very forgiving in our industry,” Sulentic said.

Staffing agencies have had to change their tactics

Lewis said her agency keeps workers engaged through social media and constant communication. “Our company has temps to hire staff. So instead of someone looking for a job for two or three days, our ultimate goal is to help our clients find the people who are interested in a career and the career stability,” said Lewis.

She said her company is constantly searching for matches between recruited pools of applicants and employers, sending updates on the next steps employees can expect as part of the onboarding process.

Rives said her agency continues to experiment with ways to improve the employee experience. “We need to provide a reason why employees need to go to work,” Rives said.

But things seem to be stabilizing

In the first months of 2021, Rives said up to 6,000 jobs may have been vacant at one time in her area. That number has dropped to an average of 3,500 positions now, she said.

Sulentic predicts a tight labor market in 2022 that will continue to favor employees and their demands. He expects there will be an increase in compensation for skilled craftsmen and CDL drivers over the next year.

Meanwhile, Lewis said her office will continue with some of the practices that have been successful in the past, such as admissions interviews that allow her staff to get to know potential employees, stay in constant contact, act as advisors to potential employees and learn enough about customers to ensure that new employees will also fit in well with the culture.

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