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Nadworny: Second Job Syndrome

I’ve participated in a number of business events around Vermont recently where, whatever the intended topic was, all the business attendees wanted to talk about was Recruiting.

It didn’t matter if the conference was about innovation, change or the future of Vermont businesses. Nearly every businessperson and economic development professional couldn’t talk enough about the problem of recruiting quality workers to Vermont.

According to them, when it comes to Vermont’s economy, this is topic, or enemy, number one. It’s fascinating to hear firms like lament the fact that they can’t fill developer positions paying $110,000/year. But you’ll hear the same type of complaint from manufacturers who can’t fill sewing positions and from ski resorts who can’t fill seasonal positions.

If you ask businesses what they think should be done to help solve this problem, you’ll probably hear a familiar litany, and that is that the state should increase immigration, the state should pay for recruiting campaigns, the state should lower taxes, build more houses and on and on and on. Before long, it starts sounding like recruiting isn’t the problem; state government is.

But if you dig a little deeper into some of the recruiting issues, especially as it relates to the better paying, highly qualified jobs, another picture starts to form. I’m calling this the Second Job Syndrome.

Many people around the state I’ve spoken with say that the problem isn’t due to the actual jobs Vermont companies offer. For instance, take that position. It’s a great job. The problem isn’t that job; it’s the job that might have to follow that one. Many qualified people hesitate to move to Vermont from Boston, New York or other cities because they’re worried about what might happen if the new job doesn’t work out. If they had to find Second Job here, the chance of doing so looks much, much slimmer than it does in the cities, where there are lots of other opportunities. So they stay put.

Another aspect is the Second Job in the family. Prospects ask themselves “If I take this job, what will my partner or spouse do?” And the second job can be critical when it’s a family moving here. I’ve heard of instances where someone turned down their Dream Job; a job they admitted probably would come around only once in a lifetime, because they couldn’t easily find a job for their spouse.

Perhaps here in Vermont we should rely less on state government finding solutions to the recruitment problem and more on developing a better business ecosystem so we can grow more local businesses that could provide great second jobs. That would probably mean taking a much more coordinated approach to supporting the entrepreneurial and startup economy of the state than we’ve managed so far.

Easier said than done, I know, but it seems clear to me that applying a traditional approach to the problem of attracting talented workers to Vermont just isn’t solving the problem.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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