The job market in Asheville is sounding like a competition for prized athletes with signing bonuses of up to $30,000.
Labor shortages nationwide are creating competition among employers and driving vacancies across many industries. Employers from the Grove Park Inn and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. to family-owned plumbing and landscaping businesses are trying to lure new employees with signing bonuses.
Mission Health is advertising bonuses of up to $30,000 for nurses who commit to staying two years. Mission is offering bonuses for other positions, including $15,000 for surgical techs and $10,000 for respiratory therapists, and relocation payments of up to $15,000.
“Newly increased rates!” said a posting on Indeed for a part-time nurse at Mission Hospital. “Sign-on bonus will be paid out in your first paycheck!”
A study by Indeed found that signing bonuses nationwide surged beginning in 2020 as employers struggled to hire and keep workers following the start of the pandemic.
As of July 2022, just over 5 percent of job postings on Indeed advertised signing bonuses, more than three times higher than in the same month in 2019. Competition was most intense in healthcare with 20 percent of nursing jobs advertising signing bonuses.
A search on Indeed this week found hundreds of Asheville area jobs mentioning signing bonuses — postings for bus drivers, dietary aides, housekeepers, dentists, truck drivers, and paramedics.
Signing bonuses have become increasingly common, not just in health care but other fields in recent years, said Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board. Even entry-level jobs like pizza deliverers have come with bonuses of over $5,000, he said.
For workers with experience and transferable skills or certifications, Ramsey said, bonuses can be an attractive means to lure employees “from other employers when the overall demand far exceeds the supply of talent.”
Bonuses for cooks, dishwashers
A well-publicized national shortage of police officers has led law enforcement departments to market themselves in innovative ways. Asheville Police are now paying a hiring bonus of up to $5,000, according to a recruiting website, while some other police departments in North Carolina, such as Fayetteville and Durham, are offering $10,000 incentives and thousands more in relocation assistance.
Asheville Police, fully staffed at 238 officers, is down 38 percent of its force, counting vacancies and officers on leave, said spokeswoman Samantha Booth.
“It’s a challenging time to recruit law enforcement officers nationwide, and we are all competing for the same candidates,” Booth said. Other departments offering “higher bonuses and incentives that may outpace ours makes recruiting efforts that much more challenging.”
The competition for new employees is evident across many occupations as shown in Asheville area online job postings this week.
Want to be an armored truck driver? That comes with a $2,000 “sign on bonus.”
A satellite technician/installer, a job that pays $55,000 to $85,000 a year, also comes with a $2,000 bonus.
A Weaverville company was looking for a traffic control flagger to direct traffic at construction sites. “Be a hero in a hard hat,” the posting said, offering a $2,500 signing bonus and $1,000 “referral incentives.”
The Grove Park Inn was offering signing bonuses of $2,000 for cooks and an HVAC technician, and $2,500 for a massage therapist.
Signing bonuses were on the table for a dishwasher at Sierra Nevada ($1,000), a bistro server at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community ($2,000), a Wendy’s general manager ($2,500), and a landscape crew member ($750).
Some state agencies are also offering bonuses to recruit or retain employees in hard-to-fill positions. “This initiative aids in the employment of individuals for critical positions that have labor market shortages which affect the business needs of the agency and impair the delivery of essential services,” said the state Human Resources Manual effective Sept. 1, 2022.
A website for state job openings this week returned 450 results for “sign-on bonus,” including 32 in Buncombe County with bonuses of up to $10,000. The jobs included nurses, social workers, youth counselors and elevator inspectors.
‘A Tough Environment for Employers’
The need for healthcare workers is particularly acute, especially in western North Carolina, Ramsey said. And it’s not just hospitals but also doctors’ offices and nursing homes.
“I’m not aware of any patient setting … that isn’t facing workforce challenges,” Ramsey said.
He said he recently served on a panel with a representative of UNC Health, who said their health care system had more than 10,000 openings out of a workforce of more than 40,000.
“Virtually every hospital is in the same predicament,” Ramsey said. “The demand for healthcare will continue to rise in western North Carolina as we are older and sicker than state and national averages.”
Mission in September increased pay “by more than $20 million for various direct patient care roles throughout the hospital in an effort to both recruit and retain team members,” said spokeswoman Nancy Lindell. To expand the pool of healthcare workers, Lindell said Mission is funding nurse faculty positions at two local colleges and a university and just opened an Asheville campus of the Galen College of Nursing.
“If the pie doesn’t grow then they are just taking talent from each other,” Ramsey said. “I’m skeptical if we will ever meet the demand for the healthcare workforce as the need for healthcare among an aging population continues to grow faster than our ability to expand capacity.”
The Asheville region had an unemployment rate of 3.3% as of October 2022, the lowest of any metro area in the state. The labor market for job seekers is softer than it was earlier in the year, but Ramsey said, “It still is a tough environment for employers trying to recruit talent.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comment from the Asheville Police Department and Mission Health.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.