WEYERS CAVE — A survey initiated by area chambers of commerce is about to shine a light on local businesses.
Forty-five community members and local business owners turned out Tuesday morning to see the results for the first time of the Wage and Benefit Survey.
The survey is the first of its kind in about 10 years to report wage and benefit information of private organizations, businesses and nonprofit organizations in Waynesboro, Staunton, Augusta County, Harrisonburg, Buena Vista, Lexington, and Highland, Page, Rockbridge, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.
The survey was a collaboration of the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber, Highland County Chamber of Commerce, Lexington-Rockbridge Chamber of Commerce, Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge.
“New employees are most sensitive to pay, not benefits packages,” said David Zorn, an economist with Mangum Economics, the company that conducted the survey.
Zorn added that a focus on pay over benefits is not just a concern for Millennials.
“It’s a rural area — that presents challenges and presents opportunities,” Zorn, who lives in northern Virginia, said of the Valley.
One of a rural area’s challenges is providing child care. Zorn said that according to the survey’s results, daycare is extremely scarce in the Valley, and daycare outside regular business hours is not available.
Child care is a challenge for parents who work shift work, or work during non-regular business hours.
Such a challenge limits job options for younger mothers entering the local work force.
New employees often get off-hour shifts, which will limit their child care options, and new residents in the Valley often have moved away from family who might provide child care options, especially outside regular business hours.
During a question-and-answer session, Zorn said the survey results are from the perceptions of local employers, not employees. And one of their perceptions is that employees value pay over benefits.
“I was highly impressed just with the people we spoke to how on the ball they were,” Zorn said.
Local employers were informative and readily able to provide the information the survey requested.
Zorn said from what he learned from local employers that employees seem to be concerned with benefits taken from their take-home pay, and they are also interested in time off from work.
Zorn saw innovation in what employers offer in benefits packages in the Valley.
“There are benefits being offered by companies in this area that I’ve never even considered before,” he said. For example, some employers offer insurance for employees’ pets.
Blue Ridge Community College President John Downey asked if the Valley was compared to national results in the survey.
Zorn said the Valley was not compared to national results.
He added that none of the employers surveyed felt that they were hiring employees they should not hire for positions. A tight labor market presents opportunities for employees.
“When you have a tighter labor market, you move wages faster,” Zorn said.
GARCC President/CEO Annette Medlin said that now the information from the survey is out in the community, the chamber will find four or five items to pull out and work with local employers on.
GARCC also looks forward to gathering feedback in the coming months from local businesses and organizations on their reactions to the survey’s results.
“We’re going to be now diving deep into this,” said Medlin.
Child care and transportation are common concerns in the Valley, Medlin said, as the survey results revealed, but neither have short-term solutions.
The survey’s results made evident the 10 years that passed since the last official survey.
“So it was time. This changes a lot,” Medlin said.
Downey said the survey revealed “sort of mostly what I expected,” which is that benefits and salaries in the Valley are comparable.
Today’s employers are challenged with training more potential employees, and finding qualified employees.
“I think the labor force continues to be a challenge,” said Downey, which he has also seen as a community college president preparing students to enter the workforce.
Downey said he remembers hiring pressures early in his career, but now hiring seems to be a challenge in all sectors.
Dan Layman is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge. He said Tuesday afternoon that he still needed to study the survey’s results “to discern” the information gathered.
“But it’s interesting our area seems to be strong in offering those future benefits,” Layman said.
However, Layman understands why today’s younger employees are more focused on today and the salary they are taking home, not on benefits that will be important later in life.
He said maybe local businesses and organizations could consider what benefits to offer that would be important for younger employees such as employees in the Millennial generation.
Links to the survey’s results are available at https://www.augustava.com/workforce-development?fbclid=IwAR3fv4T9UnPZKFSalqAgk3DhJ-Is0K-aHP1KfyWtf4MpjIObRhs3_O99YPY.