Combatting the Labor Shortage By Investing in People

March 9, 2022

By Carson Halley

Portland, Oregon

From restaurant workers to Amazon drivers, we have all experienced the impact of shortages of labor supply in today’s market. This came as a surprise to all when everyone feared they would lose their job during the Covid shutdown. But alas, groceries still needed to be sorted on shelves, mail still needed to be delivered, and factories required workers to keep up with consumer demand. And now, employers have to get creative to find and retain excellent employees across nearly every industry category….including ours in real estate investment and management.

Labor Supply and Demand Mismatch 

The current market is quite shocking through a historical lens: From December 2019 to December 2021, more than 10.9 million jobs were created, according to this recent article in The Economist. That article goes on to explain that on average there are currently six workers available for ten open jobs, something that can only mean one thing: workers can be very choosy about where and whom they work for. According to a recent article in Forbes, over half of employees surveyed said they were considering looking for a new job in 2021. The workforce has seen an enormous shift! 

There are likely a number of causes for this job/employee discrepancy.  According to Bruce Meyer, an economics professor at University of Chicago, the expanded Child Tax Credit might be one cause. While there is no doubt it helped pull many at-risk children above the poverty line during a crisis, he estimates that over 1.5 million parents were able to leave the workforce, due to a probable at-home calculation offsetting the cost of child care with the stimulus checks. Stimulus checks, as well, probably contributed in a similar fashion. 

Solutions for Attracting and Retaining Talent

So….what can be done to get employees back into the workforce and keep them there? As a small business that employs 25 people in the Pacific Northwest, we have some ideas. It starts with respecting the role of the employee and understanding the value of a positive culture. At Westland, we have always felt our staff is the very heartbeat of the organization, even 40 years ago before that became fashionable. In our onboarding process, we share with our employees something we hold very dear to us: our corporate values. We state: 

“We believe that happy employees are productive employees, and we aim to create a positive, engaging culture for our people. We seek employees who share our values and are eager to learn, grow and be successful alongside one another. Our employees are our greatest asset.” 

We know that it’s important for our team members to have a life, to grow and learn through work, to feel like they are a part of something bigger and to have fun!  Here are some policies we rely on to keep our team happy and productive:  

  1. Real Flexibility: Flexibility has become table stakes for modern businesses, but for it to be “real” flexibility, it has to be not just tolerated, but encouraged. We stress the importance of self-care at our office and on our properties. Rigid schedules are not conducive to things like going to the dentist, taking a child to a soccer game or a parent to a doctor’s appointment – yet we know how important these “life” things are. So long as our team members are able to stay on top of their work and service all of their obligations to our customers, we are more than happy to provide the flexibility required for a fulfilling life. As a leadership team, we try to model this – I’m a father of twins and a newborn daughter and am often pulled in many directions! When duty calls at home, I am grateful to be able to be there for my family. We are all really conscientious and get the job done – while also attending to our personal lives.  

  1. Added Value Skill Development: We invest in people who come in with the desire to learn, and we offer on the job training and continuing education opportunities for our people to learn valuable new skills, be it in maintenance or in accounting. We support and pay for additional certifications, and once employees make those advancements and are able to deploy their newfound skills, they are compensated appropriately for it. Our people see a direct path between hard work, effectiveness, and an increase in pay. 

From David our maintenance worker: “I started as a maintenance tech for Centro Properties and the company is now bringing someone in to train me on refinishing sinks, bathtubs and countertops. I’m gaining new skills and will make more money every time I use them!” -David Orihuela, Centro Maintenance

  1. Team Bonding Time:  We know that having a vibrant corporate culture is integral to work happiness, and we want people to love working here. So we prioritize having time together as a team – to just have FUN and enjoy each other as people, not just co-workers. Our leadership team designates outings to go bowling, have Friday afternoon parties, and even sing our hearts out at Karaoke (our CEO is the master of 90’s greatest hits)! We recently threw a little creativity into the mix and had this painting (below) created live by a local artist at one of our gatherings.

 “I love that we always have a little fun and take time to celebrate together! It is great to spend time with my co-workers and hang out on a personal level - and I think it makes us a better team. I love this company.”  Jose Mora–Torres, Centro Accounting

  1. Ownership: One of the best ways we invest in our people is by inviting them to invest with us! For those who are interested, we waive minimums and give our employees a piece of the pie alongside our longstanding investment partners, offering access to our best deals. We can’t think of a better way to align our priorities and purpose as a team, in long-term value creation through strategic real estate investment. 

“I’ve seen how well Westland has done over the years and I wanted into the game. The ability to directly invest and to be part of the action is a unique advantage that my husband and I are very excited about.” – Rosemarie Kendall, Westland Administrative Manager.

In Conclusion

Our investment in our team is good for our people, for our communities and for our business. In the last 18 months as we’ve expanded these policies, we’ve seen our team galvanize on a variety of different levels – and we’ve grown over 300%. We’re proud of this track record and remain dedicated to serving up exciting strategic opportunities to our investors, while supporting and nurturing our growing team.  We believe we are building one of the best teams in the business, and we are moving closer to that goal everyday.    


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