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Transportation: The Hidden Factor in Employment
By Donna M. McIntyre-Johnson

Posted on 4/24/07

Faced with changing demographics and an increase in competition for talent from other service businesses, my company has worked hard to communicate who we are and what we have to offer to people outside our general area. We responded to the challenge of finding smart, friendly, hospitable individuals by amplifying our recruiting scope and making it easier to apply.

Once limited to advertising in local papers and posting a sign on the roof, our recruiting efforts now include online resources touching folks as far away as Iowa and closer to home in Racine and Kenosha. We invested in a better company website that could communicate our openings and our benefits. We partnered with schools and became more involved in our area’s workforce development efforts.

We continue to post, fax, mail, verbalize, and network our way to new employees. And we hope that job seekers will do the same. We accept application by email, post, in person, by fax or by referral. Low tech, high tech or no tech, we can make an application available to a job seeker.

Unfortunately, getting the word out that we exist and that we have positions available are only parts of the employment equation. Transportation concerns are another big one.

I hear it voiced on the phone every day from job seekers. “I’m really interested in the job you have posted but…..”

  • Where exactly are you located?
  • Are you on the bus line?
  • I can’t work Sundays because there is no bus.
  • I can only work first shift because of the bus.
  • I can’t come in early or stay late.
  • I can’t get home if I get off late.
  • Why do I need a driver license for that job?
  • Are you saying that I might not get a bartender license because I couldn’t afford to pay my fines?

No license and/or no car mean that a good portion of job seekers are relegated to jobs within a certain distance from home. For many Milwaukee job seekers with limited transportation that means that Waukesha is unavailable to them. Some with cars will risk driving when they are not licensed just to get an interview but realize upon arriving at the hotel that they can’t take the chance of driving every day.

As an employer, I feel this barrier in the number of people I talk to who say they are not interested when they find out where we are. For every three or four people I speak to who applied online and who live outside the Waukesha area, only one is likely to travel to us to work. Only 50% of the people from Milwaukee, who make an appointment for an interview, show up. I hear about all the hardships: fines for speeding that equal three days pay for a $7 per hour worker, gas prices, blown engines on old cars, unpaid parking tickets compounding daily, families too poor to pay for driver’s education, repossessions after layoffs. Worse yet, usually there is no one to go to for help or guidance. No live person at the end of many automated systems to tell a person what to do.

Typical examples of how the lack of transportation and licenses impact our business and job seekers’ lives include these:

Nera’s Story

We hired Nera as a cook in our waterpark. She had some cooking experience. Her personal references showed her to be friendly and a hard worker. As a recent immigrant from a war torn country, her English was limited but she was attending classes for that. We included a family member in the hiring process to make sure that all of Nera questions were answered. We decided that we would include pictures in our training so that there might be less production issues. We discussed the schedule we needed filled. Both Nera and her supervisor were excited about her starting. But it never happened. One day before Nera was due to report, she called to withdraw. Her family member called us back to say that she was very sorry but because they didn’t have a car and because we only had shifts available that worked later than the bus ran, Nera had to quit. She went on to say that Nera was heart broken because this was the opportunity she was looking for. After exploring her public transportation options, Nera had phoned everyone she knew at church and school to see if anyone could commit to picking her up from work each day until she could save for a car, but no one could. They were all juggling work and school too. Both Nera and our company lost something that day.

Dan’s Story

Dan would love to join the Country Springs Hotel banquet service team. He enjoys the work he does with us through the temp agency. He does a great job and we appreciate his smile and hard work when the temp service sends him to help us. Just one problem, Dan can’t get to work without being part of the temp service team. Dan lives in Milwaukee and a few bad choices several years ago have made it cost prohibitive to get his license and a car. The only way he can get to work is if he takes the Milwaukee bus to Brookfield Square and someone from the temp service picks him up and drops him off at the client’s location. Sometimes weeks go by between work assignments because businesses have their own servers to use first. He’s tried doing other types of steadier work through other temp company’s but after several occasions of being left stranded a county away from home in the middle of the night by a temp service van driver that decided not to show up, he’ll stick to daytime banquet work where he has a better chance of getting help if a problem arises.

Transportation issues, whether bad luck or self imposed, create a barrier to employment that isn’t discussed enough. As an employer, we can work hard to let people know that we have jobs open and how to apply, but a job seeker has to be able to get here to start the process. It is very difficult for us to lose an employee or job seeker because they can’t come to work.

Donna M. McIntyre-Johnson is Director of Human Resources at Country Springs Hotel

Helen Bader Foundation University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Jobs