Holding employees tough with Amazon looming

Friday, October 18, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 42
By Joe Morris

Internet shopping has created even more options for  Middle Tennessee workers. In addition to delivery positions, numerous Midstate fulfillment centers need people to pick orders.

-- Photos By Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Amazon created much excitement when it announced its plan to sink $250 million into Nashville with a new operations site in the Nashville Yards downtown.

State and company officials announced a projected 5,000 corporate management positions and IT-focused jobs with an average salary of $150,000.

A year later, as the buildings begin to take shape and hiring looms, Nashville’s already-tight labor market is about to see some major shifts, say experts in the staffing and recruiting field.

“I think they will bring some of that labor pool to us, and there absolutely will be recruiting efforts done locally,” says Brenda Franklin, senior director of operations for Hire Dynamics. “There’s going to be a ripple effect, one that I think will come in thirds.

“First you’ll see people who are in our information technology jobs, our e-commerce companies, leave to go to Amazon as their core operations take shape. That’s going to create openings in their current positions as those employers fill in the gaps.

“And then you’ll see people with related skill sets moving into the area as Amazon’s presence brings in employers with similar needs who want to be close to that operation.”

With the poaching either about to begin or underway, depending on who’s being asked, employers are starting to feel that heat. Franklin says companies are taking a harder look at what they can do to keep their talent in place, including some serious culture shifts.

“They know their people value a flexible work-life balance, but they can be unsure what that looks like,” she explains. “They are asking what it’s going to take to keep people on board, because when someone at that level leaves, you can’t fill that spot in two weeks. It could take months.

“So they want to be a great place to work and want their employers to tell them what’s appealing – work from home options, incentives, whatever it takes.”

Tennessee employers have been in this position before, notes Elizabeth Williams, executive vice president at Randstad, who manages the Tennessee market. For some guidance, Nashville merely needs to look to its southeast.

“We saw this kind of thing when Volkswagen came into Chattanooga,” Williams explains. “There were a lot of jobs, and a lot of movement in the local labor market. And then, as suppliers came in to support Volkswagen, there were even more shifts.

“When a big company comes in, there’s a definite ripple effect and a long aftermath in the labor market, so employers have to be ready and able to respond and compete to keep their employees.”

It’s also worth noting that many Nashville employers have been preparing for Amazon’s arrival, and so they won’t be caught flat-footed, says Chris Nichols, client solutions manager at Endevis, a recruitment process consulting and systems firm.

“The way Nashville has been growing, this was bound to happen,” Nichols acknowledges. “Many of the companies that are here were themselves recruited to move here, or their presence was a part of recruitment pitches.

“They have already been doing what needs to be done, which is making sure they have benefits locked down. Not just health insurance; at this point that’s a gimme.

“They have been working on employee engagement and creating a dialogue that lets employees know they are valued, and that their employer wants them to stay.”

And those firms that have lagged behind?

“They are going to have twice the challenge finding talent, because they won’t be seen as a place that’s forward-thinking, and a good place to build a career,” Nichols says.