Rural companies must show workers the money, tech to bring in talent

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Employment in rural areas has yet to recover from the recession. By the second quarter of 2016, non-metro regions were still 2.9 percent below pre-recession employment levels. Meanwhile, employment in cities grew 4.8 percent from that time.

The types of industries that are currently operating in rural regions — farming, transportation and warehousing and mechanization — are the exact industries that are ripe for automation. As companies in these sectors turn to automation, talented workers will look for other employment, likely in urban areas with more opportunities, meaning more people will flock from rural areas.

{mosads}These regions are set to lose not only jobs, but residents purchasing homes, goods and services and overall contributions to the economy. 


Even though automation has yet to completely take over the nation, job seekers in rural environments are less hopeful about their job prospects when compared to those in suburban and urban areas.

According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, only 30 percent of Americans living in rural areas believe their job prospects to be excellent or good. Nearly half of suburban and urban job seekers, on the other hand, have a positive outlook on their job prospects. 

Data show people living in rural areas feel increasingly disenfranchised, and the population in these regions continues to rapidly shrink. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over half of the country lived in rural regions in 1910, but by 2010, these regions contained less than one-fifth of the U.S. population, despite regions defined as “rural” consisting of 97 percent of the land in the United States.

How can rural-based companies attract and retain high-level talent during this exodus? One answer is compensation. Workers who are financially incentivized will move to where the jobs are.

According to an article published by Modern Healthcare, the most effective means they have found for attracting high-talent physicians to rural areas is through higher compensation. Starting salaries for rural areas often need to be higher because many potential employees do not want to live in rural areas despite high demand.

Another draw for workers is technology. When college grads or urban workers are trained on the most up-to-date technology, they expect to use these tools in their jobs.

Particularly in health care and hospitals, which tend to be the largest employers in rural areas, advanced technology could attract and retain doctors, nurses and administrative staff to these areas.

It’s true that technological advances are causing some unrest in rural areas, as workers fear being replaced by automation, but that does not mean that it has to be the end of rural living. Rather, companies need to shift their priorities given the new environment and figure out what works best for themselves and their employees.

There are other ways companies can attract talent without the cost of increasing compensation or investing in new technologies. Connecting to local universities and colleges, offering special opportunities to people who are already familiar with the area, can help companies stay competitive.

Companies can also look into what makes the area unique compared to more urban areas, such as festivals or natural attractions, and get involved in these activities. The key is to make sure employees believe that they are just as happy living in a rural area as they would be in an urban environment. 

As millennials age and start buying property and having families, they will likely want to go to places that have a low cost of living but with access to a lot of the amenities found in cities, like restaurants and entertainment.

Companies can draw workers with competitive compensation and positions that make use of their technological skills and retain them by building the community to be a place these workers want to stay.

Andrew M. Challenger is vice president of business development at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based global outplacement & career transitioning firm. Prior to Challenger, Andrew was an associate director of business development at an alternative investment platform focused on hedge funds and commodity trading advisors.

Tags Automation job loss Outplacement Rural culture Settlement geography Structure Unemployment

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