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.
A signing bonus is swell, but then what? The Deerfield Bistro job is advertised at $14-$15 hour. Sierra Nevada is so embarassed about their payrate for the “bonus” jobs that they don’t list a pay range (while other jobs do.) A lot of the jobs advertised on Indeed for the Grove Park Inn were UNDER $15 hour! A onetime bonus of $2000 is equivalent to 96¢ an hour. It’s just not enough to compensate a human for working full time.
I really value and appreciate the work you all do here. But this piece seems to echo a popular narrative going around that claims people just seem to want to work anymore. Recent wage adjustments and signing bonus incentives amount to too little, too late. The reality is that the workers who form the economic base of Asheville’s economy have either been forced out of the city or they’re crammed into available rentals while living paycheck to paycheck. Years of stagnant wages have been met with skyrocketing housing costs that have been driven up by a flood of real estate investors. I admire your team’s passion for and dedication to investigative journalism. But I urge you to talk to young folks in this town and find ways of engaging with local workers. Join the Asheville riff-raff page on Facebook where you’ll hear stories that help explain the labor shortage. The folks staffing restaurants, law offices, nonprofits, childcare facilities, and other local businesses will tell you how they struggle to make ends meet. Young workers have packed into available rental homes with roommates to afford a place to live. They’ve had to fight through apartment waiting lists, nonrefundable application fees, and competitive listings just to find a place among the limited pool of affordable rentals. They’ve been forced out of their rental units so that investment homeowners could either put the property up for sale at an absurd price or relist the property after doubling the monthly rent.
Real estate tech companies like Airbnb, Zillow, Opendoor, Offerpad, and other ibuying platforms have pushed the housing crisis towards a breaking point. AirDNA data on Airbnb rentals has revealed thousands of short-term rental listings throughout the AVL metro area, most of which are entire homes or apartments. And that’s just AirBnB. That doesn’t even account for a wider spectrum of real estate investors who include corporations, property management firms, ibuyers, mom and pop flippers, builders, and “house hackers”. The city does not have the data available to regulate or even fully understand the housing crisis. The task of regulating becomes even more challenging when investment buyers form LLCs and trusts to evade ownership transparency. The full extent of the housing crisis may not be understood until it reaches the point of collapse. It’s already led to growing homelessness and crime rates as people have been pushed onto the streets. Some folks I’ve known over the last few years have been forced to leave town or moved back home. Others have started living in vans or mobile homes outside the city. The folks who’ve stuck around continue to debate whether to move elsewhere or fret over finding a new place when their lease ends.
Amidst this exodus of local workers, there has been an influx of migrants from other states. Lots of these transplants seem to consist of older retirees, real estate investors who earn “passive incomes” from short-term rentals, and younger remote workers who earn higher salaries in jobs out of state. Those migrants aren’t likely to fill job openings, yet they increase the demand for goods and services. The saddest part is that while local workers are struggling, all I tend to hear from older folks in the community is some version of the same popular refrain: “people just don’t want to work anymore”. The reality is that for someone making $17/hr. (roughly $35,000 a year), a cheap one-bedroom apartment ($1300-$1400 monthly rent) can easily eat up around 40-50% of their net income. And that doesn’t even account for the cost of utilities, a reliable car/transportation, healthcare fees, student loan payments, groceries, or other regular bills. Is a $30,000 bonus really that enticing to a nurse carrying $50,000 in student loan debt when other hospitals offer student loan forgiveness benefits? For a retail worker, does a $2,000 signing bonus mean anything if hourly wages cannot fundamentally support the basic cost of living?
For why people have chosen unemployment, I recommend the first chapter, “Why Bother”, in Arthur Raper’s book, “Sharecroppers All”. It is readily available on Amazon or through the Southern Historical Collection at the UNC-Chapel Hill Library. Hopelessness is a destructive force. Forty years of trickle down policy and starvation wages have produced extreme insecurity and wage slavery for the ordinary citizen. He or she knows opportunity and dignity are not part of work.
It is shameful that NC elected representatives continue soliciting more industry & growth. It is obvious this beautiful part of the country is becoming overpopulated; as many other parts of the US. We are a society that increasingly demands more luxury goods and services than there are citizens willing to produce them.
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