College subsidies for children and spouses. Free rooms for summer hotel employees and a set of knives for aspiring culinary workers. And appetizers on the house for anyone willing to sit down for a restaurant job interview.
Determined to lure new employees and retain existing ones in a suddenly hot job market, employers are turning to new incentives that go beyond traditional monetary rewards. In some cases, the offerings include the potential to reshape career paths, like college scholarships and guaranteed admission to management training programs.
The sudden reopening of vast swaths of the U.S. economy has left companies scrambling for workers as summer approaches, especially in the service sector. What’s more, in many cases the inducements are on top of increases in hourly pay.
The result is a cornucopia of new benefits as human resources officers and employees alike rethink what makes for a compelling compensation package. And in a pathbreaking move, some businesses are extending educational benefits to families of employees.
The labor market was relatively tight before the pandemic stuck in early 2020, but the rise of noncash offerings is a new wrinkle. Many large companies find themselves pitted against other giants in the search for workers with similar types of skills and experience and want to stand out, especially in the rush to staff back up after the pandemic.
“We knew we had to do something radically different to make Waste Management attractive when you have other companies looking for the same type of worker,” said Tamla Oates-Forney, chief people officer at Waste Management. “There is such a war for talent that compensation isn’t a differentiator.”
“You can never have too many drivers,” she said. “When you think about Amazon and Walmart, we’re going after the same population.”
The company will pay for employees to earn bachelor’s and associate degrees, as well as certificates in areas like data analytics and business management. In a significant expansion, Waste Management will begin offering these scholarships to spouses and children of workers this year.
“We can do something that really changes people’s lives,” said Jim Fish, Waste Management’s chief executive. “For someone with kids in high school, this is a big deal.”
The competition for new hires is especially intense in the leisure and hospitality industry, which has surged back to life after shutting down almost completely last spring.