Many Salt Lake City business owners are challenged with operating expenses and finding ways to pay a wage to their employees that will meet cost of living demands.  Our Workforce Development Manager Jake Maxwell shares his experiences from the field and offers his point of view in a series we call “Workforce Friday” to keep the conversation going.  As always, we’d love to hear your feedback.

As I meet with businesses to discuss the challenges of finding talent, I have noticed a strength for some businesses over others. Those businesses who understand the people who work for them and the people applying have a significant advantage over other businesses just struggling to find and retain talent.

Let me explain why this is. There is a divide between business and much of the still available workforce. Imagine it as a pile of giant boulders between them. The hard climbers within the workforce may be able to make their way to the employers, but the businesses who are investing in dynamite and boulder movers are creating open channels to the workforce. What are some of these obstacles?

Did you know the median cost for infant child care in Utah is currently $760 per month? This is higher in Salt Lake City, and is upwards of $1600 per month for high quality child care. Child care costs equal or exceed the cost of a mortgage for some. Did you know the wage needed to “afford” fair market rent at 30% of your income in Salt Lake is around $17.70 per hour, but the median renter income is between $13-14 per hour? This creates overwhelming waiting lists for both child care and affordable housing, both of which do not have nearly enough options to meet the demand. So, if we have a single mom with a college degree who is trying to make it on her own, she needs to make $3262 per month, or $18.96 per hour to afford modest rent for a 1 bedroom and childcare expenses. Keep in mind she is likely on waiting lists for both, possibly for a year or more. This causes our workforce to work multiple jobs and sacrifice time ensuring their kids are progressing in a meaningful way in school, activities, community, etc.

Here is the scary thing….$18.96/hour is considered “middle income”.

We see ourselves now in the job seekers market where it was the employers market as we recovered from the recession. The unfortunate fact is that job seekers are exchanging a job with medical benefits for a job that pays $1-$2 per hour more without benefits. However, when you are the single parent I mentioned above, you are also always looking for something that has a better overall package. This creates massive turnover and training waste for businesses. This creates such a great opportunity for employers to learn about what the workforce is shopping for and meet the demand, and it is my job to help employers be strategic in doing so.

Salt Lake City is also working hard to minimize transportation barriers and increase infrastructure, we are building more affordable housing, including deeply affordable housing, are seeking solutions for housing density in areas that previously would not support it. We aim to level the playing field for our valuable residents and our valuable employers to find solutions where everyone can win and thrive.