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A Christmas Wish

During this time of year I typically write a column with a Christmas theme. So if you are expecting Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” or “The Grinch that Stole Christmas”, you will not find it here. I still plan on using a Christmas theme, but in a roundabout way. The other day someone asked me a question that I have become all too familiar with; how are things at Tri-Valley? I don’t mind answering the question, but I think people expect me to answer that we are struggling financially as most non-profits are right now. That is not the case though. Are we flush with money, no. Are we making ends meet, yes. So I responded to this individual that if I had one Christmas wish I would ask for a well trained workforce.

Why would I wish for that? I have found that during periods of economic prosperity and low unemployment rates, which we have now, we cannot find enough employees to fill our positions. This has happened in the past and will continue into the future. This is due to the fact that we are unable to compete with the for-profit businesses for the limited number of employees available. We offer great benefits including a retirement plan, health insurance, life insurance, a dental plan, etc., but where we cannot compete is with wages. People only look at the bottom line of how much they are making an hour and not the benefits attached to their work. For example, an employee who has been with Tri-Valley three months can make $9.50 an hour. Add in benefits and that total jumps to over $15.00 an hour. If they have overtime, which many of our employees do right now, they can make $14.25 an hour plus benefits. I have also found that when the economy is in the dumps, we typically have full employment and the number of applicant doubles and triples.

Overall we have great employees, many who have been with us over ten years. While we are able to retain seventy-five percent of our employees, we continually turn over that other twenty-five percent. It’s a wheel that keeps spinning, spinning and never stops. Whenever you think you are making progress, you have to terminate an employee or one resigns and you are back to square one.

There are two problems with the current employment environment. The first is finding applicants that are eligible for employment. Applicants must have a valid driver’s license, a clean background check and be drug free. You would think that it would be easy to find these types of people, but it is not. We have advertised on the radio, in newspapers, Facebook, used word of mouth, and utilized Kansas Works. I think the only thing we have not done is dress someone up in a sandwich board and have them stand along a busy street. That day may be coming though. If you are able to meet these few requirements that I mentioned above, you should be able to find a job without any problem. This leads me to my second point.

When we do find employees to hire that meet these criteria, many of them are unreliable, disrespectful or have a poor work ethic. They show up to work late, they don’t show up at all, they don’t follow instructions, and the list goes on and on. We have employees who decide to quit without any notice or they walk off of the job. What kind of person does that to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities? We don’t ask a lot. Just show up and do your job, very simple.

So during these tough times, what do we do? I wish I had a Christmas wish to find out. Agencies across the nation are facing these same issues. The national turnover rate is over fifty percent and the number of vacancies at agencies is staggering. I know of one agency in Kansas that has over sixty openings. I fear that matters will only get worse with time as baby-boomers continue to retire and our birth rate remains low. In the meantime, we can only continue to work on retaining the staff we have and recruiting new employees. Where are you Santa when I need you?

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