PINE ISLAND — There are fewer and fewer workers out there with the desire to do what Nate Rud needs.

Rud, who was looking to hire as many as 10 new workers, understood he'd have to make do with less.

"If I can get one today, I'll be thrilled," Rud said.

On Tuesday, Rud's company, Byron-based Bigelow Lennon, a home construction company, was one of 17 with representatives on-site at the American Legion in Pine Island, recruiting from among the potential workers who walked in with resumes and filled out job applications on the spot.

RELATED: Shortage of workers leaves a bad taste for Southeast Minnesota restaurants

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Out of all the construction workers he hired last year, Rud said he might still have one on his staff.

Michelle Wiering, Talent Acquisition Manager for Treasure Island Resort and Casino speaks with someone during a job fair Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at the American Legion in Pine Island. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Michelle Wiering, Talent Acquisition Manager for Treasure Island Resort and Casino speaks with someone during a job fair Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at the American Legion in Pine Island. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

To staff his crews, Rud said, he goes to local colleges to talk to construction technology students, has raised the starting wage $5 an hour, and talks about hiring someone he can help grow into his next foreman.

He's not alone.

"One is good," said Ralph Anderson, a recruiting and workforce development specialist with Ellingson, a construction company based in West Concord. "Two, three would be great."

Anderson said while business for Ellingson is booming, finding employees has become a challenge. Getting employees who already have skills – a commercial driver's license, experience operating construction machinery – is a plus, but the company is happy to hire people and train them.

And they leave no stone unturned. Whether they hire people fresh out of high schools with construction technology classes or go to colleges and universities for potential workers with more education.

"We did a job fair at Minnesota State in Mankato and hired six or seven," he said.

People attend a job fair Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at the American Legion in Pine Island. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
People attend a job fair Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at the American Legion in Pine Island. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Anderson said the job fairs, especially post-COVID, might have fewer job seekers, but what those crowds lack in quantity they make up in quality.

"The casual lookers are gone," he said. "Now, we're only getting the real job seekers, and that's good for us."

Sybil Zmolek, a recruiter for Lincoln Industries in Pine Island, said she was surprised by the number and the quality of people interested in talking about working for her company. And while she was willing to consider both skilled and unskilled workers, there was more to her hiring hopes than just numbers.

"We're looking for the right fit for our culture," she said.

That meant people who wanted to be trained and were looking for advancement opportunities, Zmolek added in a pitch to a job seeker who stopped to talk.

Janet Hanke, president of the Pine Island Area Chamber of Commerce, said her organization reached out first to chamber members then to general Pine Island businesses to find companies that were looking to boost their staff numbers.

She said the number of job seekers was about what she expected for the fair, but she'd hoped to find more people out looking for work.

"You look at the massive leaving of the workforce in 2021," she said. "No one was expecting that."

Hanke said representatives from Workforce Development Inc. in both Red Wing and Rochester came to the event, as much to help people looking for jobs as those looking for workers.

Cyndi Reese of Workforce Development Inc., in Rochester, said she was talkng to employers about how her organization can help them find the right workers in a tough job market.

One problem, Reese said, is some job seekers have problems filling out sometimes-daunting online applications. There are also single mothers who need child care solutions before they enter the workforce, and people with criminal histories who have concerns about passing background checks.

Finding ways to match employers with job seekers who are dealing with these issues is one way to help companies fill their needs, she said.

"We have people looking for jobs," Reese said. "But they have barriers."