Nixa’s Now Hiring

It’s never been a better time to find a job. Take a drive around Nixa, Ozark or Springfield and it’s likely one would find miles of “Help Wanted” or “Now Hiring” signs strung across the cities. For now, it seems those signs, banners and billboards are here to stay, Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Russell said.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Russell said. “All of the local communities, like Branson, are having the same problems we are.”
Russell said the issue isn’t something that can be solved overnight and other consequences might follow to compensate for that fact.
“There isn’t much of a long-term solution that we’ve found yet,” Russell said. “But short term inflation might be the solution for businesses to compete with the local wages and pay increases.”
Inflation isn’t a new issue, it’s been something that has been discussed since the pandemic began. On July 19, President Joseph R. Biden down-played the effects of inflation as more parts of the United States got back to some sort of normal, saying, “The reality is, you can’t flip the global economic light back on and not expect [inflation] to happen. But that’s not our view,” Biden said. “Our experts believe … the data shows that most of the price increases [his administration] seen are … expected to be temporary.”
However, inflation has become a prominent issue within the community.
“Inflation has been a major challenge for us,” Russell said. “The cost of food is going to go way up in local restaurants, which can be an issue for some locally.”
The local inflation also causes many consequences for the businesses trying to keep their workers in place, and Russell saw some of the effects that might make it harder for those businesses to do so.
“If Big Whiskey’s starts paying people $16.50 an hour, pretty soon people aren’t going to want to pay $19 for a burger, and when that happens, Big Whiskey’s loses revenue and eventually has to let go some of their waiters which makes the labor market even more compressed,” Russell said.
It isn’t just larger businesses like Big Whiskey’s that are impacted. Local small businesses are being impacted as well. “On Halloween, we had our Creeping in the Crossroads event and we had a restaurant that opted not to open because they just didn’t have the workers on staff to meet the demands they knew they were going to have,” Russell said. “Creeping in the Crossroads is one of our biggest events throughout the year, and the fact a business had to close because they didn’t have enough workers to give what they believed to be quality service just shows how much the labor market and inflation has impacted our community.”
The community also impacts the schools, and the search and need for substitutes have only grown stronger during this particular school year.
Mark McGehee, the executive director of Human Resources at Nixa Public Schools, said some rooms that need substitutes don’t get them, which means schools have to get creative in finding teachers for the vacant rooms.
“At the high school, sometimes subs from other classrooms have to give up their hour of plan time to cover the room that did not have a sub,” McGehee said. “For class periods where there are not any other subs with a plan time, regular teachers have to give up their plan time to cover. Also, student teachers are sometimes used to help cover classes when there is a classroom without a sub. It is possible in elementary schools that a special teacher covers a class, maybe a librarian, a counselor, a reading specialist or instructional coach. There are also times when a principal or assistant principal will cover a class.”
The issue gets harder when more rooms need substitutes of course, but right now the amount needed has become a much larger issue than in years past.
“We are averaging between an 80 percent and 90 percent fill rate on any given day,” McGehee said. “That means that 10 percent to 20 percent of our staff are not getting substitutes when they are out of school for sickness, doctor visits, illness of immediate family members or even when they are out for professional development or school activities.”
As is with every other job right now, it has become increasingly difficult to hire substitutes to fill the 10-20 percent vacant rooms with substitutes. However, this isn’t solely a Nixa Public Schools issue.
“We are struggling to hire enough employees right now, especially subs,” McGehee said. “This is not just a Nixa problem. I’ve been in contact with most of our area schools and they are experiencing the same thing.”
One regional company helps out with the need all across the country, particularly in Nixa. Penmac Staffing has an office in Nixa, and the Nixa Branch Manager Brandon Stokes continues the sentiment that the issues Nixa faces are not isolated.
“There seems to be a lot of uncertainty among the labor force,” Stokes said. “Penmac has branches in several different states, and from speaking with those managers, the issues that we face here in Nixa are not isolated to this area.”
Stokes said the slumping market has caused plenty of competition between businesses to get the employees they need to stay somewhat afloat.
“A lot of employers are increasing their wages to compete,” Stokes said. “If Company A is paying $14.00 per hour and Company B is paying $16.00 per hour, Company A could have a bigger challenge keeping employees.”
The challenges Company A could have might keep them in an ever-changing loop of employees, and some of those problems could go beyond the hourly wage.
“Employees want two things, pay and to feel appreciated or like they are part of a team,” Russell said. “If you can do one you might get away without being able to do the other, but if you can’t do either, you are going to have a cycle of turnover until you correct it.”
For Nixa, the turnover might be necessary. Russell said even though Nixa is one of the larger growing cities in the state of Missouri, much of the growth doesn’t help the job market.
“According to the census, retired citizens are the majority of the growth, which means young people or students in high school are the ones taking the fast-food jobs, and once they leave for college or find a better-suited job for themselves it’s harder to replace those jobs,” Russell said. “That’s the challenge we find ourselves in as a community is finding those young people to work at McDonald’s or Taco Bell and the like.”
Until all of those issues are solved, it’s bound to be a very long winter in the labor department without much of a long-term solution in sight.
“We’ve been at the crossroads trying to solve these issues for a long time now,” Russell said. “Job fairs haven’t been very successful, people are leaving their jobs faster to find better paying jobs, we’re actively working with organizations like Penmac to do as much awareness as we can to get more people back in the workforce.”