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From Egg Freezing To Tuition Reimbursement, Company Perks Up In Tight Labor Market

More companies are finding it difficult to hire skilled employees, pressuring employers to rethink their hiring strategies.
Wilfredo Lee
More companies are finding it difficult to hire skilled employees, pressuring employers to rethink their hiring strategies.

Truck drivers can get a $5,000 signing bonus to drive for Walmart. Kroger grocery baggers can get tuition reimbursed. New-mother baristas at Starbucks now can get their full salary for up to six weeks of maternity leave. And traveling Goldman Sachs bankers can ship their breast milk home for free.

These new job perks are just a few signs of the hot and competitive labor market. The U.S. unemployment rate is the lowest its been in decades. That means companies from restaurants to engineering firms are being forced to find new and creative ways to lure workers.

But with companies still showing signs of reluctance to raise wages too much, the competition for workers is playing out with lavish benefits. Indeed, a recent ManpowerGroup survey of companies found that 32 percent of companies are offering additional perks and benefits to overcome shortages in "talent."

Turner, the media company that owns CNN, is trying to hire and retain data scientists, product managers and information security professionals, according to Angela Santone, Turner's top human resource officer.

To lure top workers, its perks include tuition reimbursement, pet insurance, autism support and egg-freezing assistance programs.

"While our programs do make us more competitive with candidates, we also believe in offering these benefits to engage and retain our current employees," Santone says.

The ManpowerGroup survey found that 46 percent of U.S. employers are struggling to fill open positions. And human resource officials all over the country are saying the competition for workers is tough.

"America has a talent crunch," says Steven Lindner, a talent acquisition expert at the Society forHuman Resource Management. "There's not a single employer, large or small, that I come in contact with that's not struggling to find qualified candidates."

A top reason for the shortage is simply a lack of applicants, the study said. But another problem is that those who apply don't have the specific experience or skills required for the open jobs.

In response, companies are being more flexible with education or experience requirements in job descriptions. They've also been sweetening their employment offers with more benefits — going beyond just a handful of paid holidays and a retirement plan.

Nearly every sector is struggling to find talent, the ManpowerGroup report said,particularly drivers and sales agents thanks to the boom in online shopping.

Kroger, the grocery chain, recently expanded company perks with a new program it's calling Feed Your Future, which pays for college scholarships and tuition reimbursements for even part-time employees who help bag groceries.

Earlier this year, Lowe's started offering a similar college education incentive program for skilled workers it needs, such as plumbers, carpenters and electricians.

Just this past week, Abbott, the health care company, began offering a new student loan perk to woo employees. When an Abbott employee contributes 2 percent of their salary to pay down their student loans, Abbottsweetens the deal, by contributingan additional 5 percent of the employee's pay to their 401(k) retirement plan.

Starbucks is also beefing up its employee benefitsby raising hourly pay and offering signing bonuses that range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000, depending on the region. It is also giving employees more options to build up sick days and take up to six weeks of parental leave at full pay.

"We know our responsibility in creating a better environment not only in store but in their own lives," says Reggie Borges, senior manager in global corporate communications at Starbucks. "And hopefully it encourages other companies to do the same."

Companies such as Walmart and Chrysler are offering $5,000 signing bonuses for truck drivers and auto mechanics, according to job ads.

And with jobs that are highly skilled, like doctors, bonuses can top $100,000 in some cases.

"There is a tremendous shortage looming in physicians," says Neal Fenster, CEO of Enterprise Medical Recruiting. "So a hiring entity has to essentially do whatever they can to hire a physician, and quite often that means throwing money at them in terms of a signing bonus or loan repayment."

Engineering positions are also harder to fill this year, according to the ManpowerGroup study.

But hiring employees who might need be the perfect fit has its own set of challenges. Boeing recently announced a $100 million investment in employee development after getting thousands of requests from current employees for more training programs.

Boeing currently offers tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance and charitable donation matches. In fact, the company increased the amount it would match in charitable contributions from $6,000 to $10,000, says Chaz Bickers, Boeing's communications director.

Rachael Band is a new employee lured by perks to a digital marketing firm called Wpromote in El Segundo, Calif.

The firm offered benefits such as an in-house masseuse, a dog-friendly office, telecommuting options and more recently, unlimited paid time off to its employees.

"They definitely helped sway me to work here," says Band, a digital marketing manager for the firm.

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