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How To Build a Workforce Where Workers Are Scarce

An industrial setting with a person in a hard hat walking toward a bright entrance. The spacious interior features high ceilings, machinery, and an overhead crane system. Cool blue tones suggest early morning or late afternoon

It’s true that big bustling cities are the financial and business hubs of the world. Many companies have headquarters and operations in large urban areas, hence why people flock there to commute and seek jobs. However, this is not always the case. Plenty of companies and businesses of all sizes operate in less-densely populated regions.  

Like all businesses, ones operating outside of large population centers need workers to function. But the inherently smaller populations of rural and nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas make it trickier to find new employees. Combine that with a challenging labor market and you can see how employers building or maintaining workforces in these regions have their work cut out for them. 

What are the challenges of hiring in rural or nonmetro areas?

The less populated counties of America are undergoing changes. Nonmetro areas (those areas the U.S. Census defines as all non-urban regions) are losing their population. These areas are experiencing significant decreases in their working-age populations (people 15-64 years of age).

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of nonmetro workers between the ages of 18 and 64 declined by 4.9 percent and the population under age 18 declined by 5.7 percent, while the population aged 65 years and older grew by 22 percent.

The image you provided is a bar graph titled “RURAL WORKING AGE (18-64) POPULATION DECLINED 2010-2020.” Let’s break down the key points:  The graph compares the percentage change in population between rural areas, metro (urban) areas, and the overall U.S. population across four age categories: Total, Under 18, 18-64, and 65 and older. Each category has three bars representing: Rural (orange) Metro (blue) U.S. (grey) Here are the trends for each category:  Total Population: Rural: A slight decrease Metro: An increase U.S.: A slight increase Under 18 Population: All three areas show a decrease, with rural having the largest decline. Working Age (18-64) Population: Rural: A significant decrease Metro: Stable U.S.: Slight increase 65 and Older Population: All three areas show an increase, with rural having the smallest growth. Overall, the graph highlights the demographic changes in working-age populations over the decade from 2010 to 2020.

For employers, finding a solution to shifting population trends isn’t as simple as going to where the workers are. Some jobsites need the space only nonmetro counties can provide. Industries like construction and aviation require a lot of operation space. This type of space is easier to find and is likely less expensive than establishing operations in a metropolitan area. 

The labor pool in these areas may also lack skilled trade talent. The skills gap in the United States continues to grow. Finding skilled welders or electricians is difficult even in big cities.  Nonmetro areas are especially vulnerable to this scarcity given their relatively low populations.
Despite nonmetro and rural areas experiencing losses of working age populations. The Aerotek Fall 2023 Job-Seeker Survey found that while 67% of respondents reside in urban or suburban areas, up to 89% would be open to working in a rural setting. This is good news for employers in nonmetro regions. Workers are willing to commute to these jobs, given the right conditions. 
At Aerotek, we have extensive experience in helping companies overcome their workforce challenges no matter the location. We’ve successfully helped companies in distribution and logistics, manufacturing, construction, aviation and facilities management find quality workers — even when the job is in a remote area. Here are a few tactics that have proven to be effective at building a workforce in remote areas.


4 Ways to Attract Workers to Rural Areas

Start An Employee Referral Program

Staffing in nonmetro areas can be tough. The local talent pool you have access to might be difficult to reach. For companies staffing a new location or those ramping up an existing worksite, using employee referrals as a recruitment source could be a worthwhile option.

It’s important to be prepared and proactive when launching an employee referral program. Introducing a referral program is a chance to engage your workforce and create ambassadors. Leverage this time to communicate to your current employees what makes working with your company worth the travel. The better prepared your workers are the more effective they’ll be at promoting your openings to their friends and family. 

Aerotek Director of Strategic Sales Anthony Sanzone has over 17 years of experience in staffing. He highlights how he has seen employee referrals be an effective way to recruit new workers.

The image features a quote in a stylized format with a white background and orange accents. The quote is attributed to Anthony Sanzone, Director of Strategic Sales. It discusses the value of expanding candidate pools for new job roles by considering current workers who may not actively seek new positions but would be open to opportunities through trusted conversations, highlighting the importance of recruiting within one’s own organization.  The image shows a text block with a quotation about recruitment strategies, specifically targeting passive candidates within an organization. This is interesting as it provides insight into modern hiring practices and the significance of internal recruitment.  Transcription of text:  “We’re always looking for new ways to expand our candidate pool, and often our best resource is our current workforce or candidates who are passively looking but may not be applying to job postings. They would be open to hearing about a new job or a new company from a friend, but they need a level of trust or familiarity with these recruiting conversations with an initial positive impact throughout the hiring and onboarding process. Director of Strategic Sales Anthony Sanzone”


Reduce Hiring Requirements

Nonmetro areas aren’t immune from the ongoing labor shortage. The competition for workers in most regions is expected to persist well into the future according to The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Employers looking to establish themselves in rural areas have already begun to reevaluate their hiring practices. 

To ensure they meet productivity goals and deadlines, many companies are removing or altering requirements and procedures related to background checks, drug testing and education. Easing these requirements will expand the talent pool in rural areas. This can be an intimidating process, but working with a staffing partner to help source candidates with transferable skills.

Account Recruiting Manager Jbeth Adkins has over 10 years of recruiting experience. She summarizes how altering hiring requirements has helped one of the companies she partners with. 
“I recruit for a large food manufacturer in a town about an hour north of Memphis where our candidate pool is a lot slimmer than what we would like while recruiting. We have been able to lower some of the requirements regarding job experience to help with the gap. We recruit mostly machine operators and industrial maintenance technicians for this company.  For the machine operators, where the company is normally seeking 2+ years of specific manufacturing experience, they allow us to hire people with mechanical/technical aptitude, great work ethic, and willingness to learn. The same goes for the maintenance department. Normally, they would seek a technician with 3-5 years of experience but have also allowed us to hire people who have graduated from the local technical schools or who have worked in a similar trade with transferable skills (diesel, heavy equipment, farm maintenance, etc.) We also partner with the company in company sponsored job fairs. If the candidates do not meet their “must haves”, they will let us screen the candidate to decide if we feel they are capable of the job responsibilities.  We are lucky that this company offers great pay and incentives. It is a very attractive place to work,” says Adkins.


Establish Relationships With Local Organizations

Rural communities are often close-knit because of the smaller population size. Communities are important, and by partnering with or investing in them, you’ll not only gain exposure, but you may also gain the communities’ trust. This trust can, over time, result in them being proud employees of your company.
Building relationships involves research, communication and patience. Start by identifying some shared goals between your company and the local organizations you’re interested in partnering with. This can help you bring some valuable discussion points to the relationship.  
Presenting your common goals is an excellent icebreaker, but you’ll eventually need to discuss the details regarding logistics and funding. That can be a daunting project but focusing on creating the conversation can help you begin building connections.  
Highlighting to a potential partner how developing a relationship is mutually beneficial is just the starting point. You will also need to outline specific tactics to engage those about to enter the labor force or considering a career change.

Go Beyond Competitive Pay

The reality is that whether you’re in rural or urban areas, the labor market is very competitive these days. The best way to compete is to address what is currently motivating workers. 

Aerotek’s Job-Seeker Survey series monitors what factors are most important to workers when deciding to accept a new job. As you might expect, pay is consistently the primary driver. However, benefits like ‘a positive and supportive company culture’ and ‘potential for career advancement’ aren’t too far behind. These motivators present opportunities for employers in rural areas to stand out among other companies.

Bar graph from the Spring 2024 Job Seeker Survey showing important factors for accepting a job: Pay (89%), Job Security (86%), A Positive Company Culture (80%), Career Advancement Potential (78%), and Interesting Work or Challenges (64%). The colors differentiate the factors: blue for Pay and Job Security, gray for Company Culture and Career Potential, and orange for Work Challenges.

Rural populations are dwindling as a labor shortage continues to challenge nearly every industry. This could make it extremely difficult for employers to hire the staff they need to complete projects and meet their business goals. 

Building a workforce in these regions will require companies to reconsider their hiring strategies and explore creative ways of expanding their pool. Partnering with a workforce solution expert like Aerotek will help employers locate and hire quality workers in their area. 

When you need help building and managing your workforce, contact us.