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February 13, 2013
Skilled labour shortages spur development of new benefits

Many Canadian companies offer robust benefits to full-time employees. However, as US-based business writer Emma Collins explores below, a new trend is emerging in some high-demand sectors: companies that fight for needed employees by offering unconventional benefits. Emma’s main beat is distance education MBA rankings with mbaonline.com.  She is also an expert in the current job market for new graduates.

In today’s uncertain marketplace, a number of companies that need highly skilled workers are seeing key positions go unfilled for months at a time.  According to Robert Funk, chairman of US staffing firm Express Employment Professionals: “Companies all over are having a difficult time recruiting the kind of people they’re looking for.

Mr. Funk notes that his company alone has 18,000 open job orders, asserting “there is higher demand for skilled jobs and less demand for unskilled positions than we’ve seen coming out of past recessions.” In fields requiring skilled expertise, such as the medical, some engineering, and high-tech industries, the talent deficit is driving many employers to spend large amounts on their payroll.

Meanwhile, others are finding alternatives to high salaries.

“Here, if you’re a professional developer, web designer or on-line marketing specialist, you can pick the company you work for,” says Gabriel Shaoolian, chief executive of Blue Fountain Media, a New York web design and marketing company.

Attracting quality employees has placed a unique burden on these companies. In an industry where top talent can command premium salaries, the fight for quality employees can become expensive.  The solution: In addition to their traditional benefits programs, many companies have adopted innovative benefits to attract prospective talent.

An example can be seen at Evernote, a California-based software company. There, every full-time worker, from receptionist to top executive, is entitled to housecleaning twice a month, courtesy of the company. Genentech, a biotechnology company owned by the Roche Group, offers take-home dinners and helps employees find last-minute babysitters when a child is too sick to go to school.  The Stanford School of Medicine has also begun a project that provides its doctors with house cleaning and in-home dinner delivery.

For many employers, the cost of these unique benefit packages can quickly add up.  However, for the right employees, they can be enticing.

Despite the costs, some companies maintain that innovative benefits that simplify the stress of day-to-day life can be invaluable to ambitious, career-driven employees.

According to Hannah Valantine, associate dean at the Stanford School of Medicine, that school’s benefits package is part of a broader effort to support doctors in the modern age.

“If you’re coming home at the end of the day exhausted and you have a pile of cleaning to do, it’s the kind of things that leads rapidly to burnout,” says Dr. Valantine. “We’re trying to send a very strong message that the institution cares about you and about your life.”

That belief in the importance of work-life integration has also driven many Silicon Valley tech companies, as well as some western Canadian oil and gas companies, to introduce unorthodox benefit plans.

“What you see is benefits thinking that is more holistic about individuals and their health,” says Jordan Newman, a spokesman for Google. “We want things that are functional for you and your family.”

Today, benefits such as home cleaning or executive jets may not be available to everybody.   However, as the technology, medical, petroleum and other sectors continue to blur the line between home life and work life, the influence of these new benefit plans may grow in coming years. While the idea of work as a constant presence in life may seem daunting for some, those pursuing engaging work at companies they admire may be willing to embrace the integration between work and home, especially if it alleviates potential stressors and encourages personal satisfaction and creativity.

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