Business hiring on Cape Cod continues to be challenged by housing, compensation in 2023

HYANNIS — William Cole, Barnstable's human resource director, says it's been frustrating trying to find people to fill the town's 38 open positions, but not nearly as frustrating as it is for the town departments that desperately need workers.

“Finding someone is taking longer,” he said. “We are competing for the same talent.”

Cole is using social media and ZipRecruiter to spread the word about job vacancies that range from recreation assistant to deputy director of asset management. Many jobs are filled within 70 days, he said, and another handful in the neighborhood of 100 days.

William Cole works at his computer Monday morning. Cole is the human resources director for the town of Barnstable
William Cole works at his computer Monday morning. Cole is the human resources director for the town of Barnstable

But some positions are taking much longer to fill. The highway department needs to fill a position with someone who has a commercial driver's license — that opening has gone unfilled for 230 days.

The number of job openings and the fact that so many are still going begging highlights one of the continuing challenges facing businesses and municipalities on the Cape and Islands.

Cole calls it the “new normal.”

Culture shift: Culture shift: Young workers prioritize companies with green policies over salaries

Cape and Islands businesses aren’t unique in terms of finding available workers; everyone is struggling to find employees, Cole said. But the seasonality of the Cape, the increase in year-round residents since the pandemic hit, the lack of housing and the high costs of available housing, have made the challenges harder to overcome.

“Having to hire staff that cannot only work here on Cape but being able to afford those rental costs is another huge challenge," Marty Bruemmel, president and CEO of the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, said in an email to the Times.

Cape Cod rents increased by double digits since 2021

According to Rent Data, a company that provides rental data for regions across the country, fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Barnstable is $1,879 per month, close to a 13% increase from last year. A household would need to earn $6,263 a month — $75,156 a year — in order for them not to be considered “housing cost-burdened”, or paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

“We are in a market that has been undersupplied with housing since 2008,” said Tony Shepley, president of Shepley Wood Products, which has 162 employees. “Businesses have to solve the housing crisis to stay afloat."

More:Young women on Cape Cod earn more than men. Here's why

Shepley’s, and a number of other businesses including Chatham Bars Inn and Scargo Cafe, have bought or contracted with properties where their employees can live. COVID has brought change and challenge, but it’s also forced businesses to be creative and resourceful, Shepley said.

“It’s a tough time for businesses and employees alike,” he added. “The only good thing is the economy is motoring along.”

For Convention Data Services, a Bourne-based business that provides technical support for events management, the challenges continue to be recruiting local talent in general.

“We don’t get a lot of applications or inquiries from local candidates,” Susan Partridge, vice president of human resources wrote in an email. “The bulk are from non-Cape or Southeast Massachusetts candidates.”

Guest workers:Federal agencies announce increase in H-2B visas for 2023

CDS assists more than 100 clients representing a range of businesses from high-tech and manufacturing to energy and health care that hold events, according to Partridge. Attracting attendees, tracking participation and building networks and databases are some of the services it provides. The information is collected, analyzed and shared electronically.

The work doesn't have to be site-specific as long as a worker has access to computers, email, networks, telephones and text, she said.

Workers with technical skills have been able to take advantage of the increase in remote work opportunities. According to Dice, a career hub that connects technology professionals with jobs, more than half of the job seekers they surveyed said salary, work-life balance and remote work were factors they would consider in changing employers. And 52% said they were open to changing jobs.

Getting there:What transportation projects are in the works on Cape Cod? Here are 5 projects.

CDS offers positions with remote and hybrid work schedules. The 160-employee company had a 95% retention rate before the pandemic. It’s up to 97.5%, a sign of satisfaction according to Partridge.

“Our employees like the virtual or hybrid work, so it’s wonderful to be able to offer the flexibility and work-life balance,” Partridge said.

Housing, keeping competitive with non-Cape wages, and lack of diversity in the applicant pool are challenges for the company, she said. So are keeping up with the continual changes and improvements in online collaboration tools.

Finding the right people to hire is one challenge. Keeping them is another.

'Lady of the Dunes' family speaks out:What was it like when Ruth Marie Terry went missing? 'Lady of the Dunes' family speaks out

Shepley said his company takes the long view, training employees and bringing them up from within the company. Employees have to be trained and supported so they can grow into some jobs, he said.

“If we have a housing affordability crisis, we have to solve it ourselves,” he said. “We have to look at the way we zone things, how we allow density to happen, or whether it's some policies in place that need to change.

“This is a challenge for all of us, and an opportunity if we take it the right way,” he said.

Contact Denise Coffey at dcoffey@capecodonline.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.  

Get the Cape Cod news that matters delivered to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletters.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Housing, compensation are top challenges for Cape businesses