By Christiane Cordero

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s 3.3% unemployment rate brings a new set of opportunities and challenges to the workforce. Companies need to fill positions so badly that some are reevaluating eligibility requirements or benefits offered.

For a positive spin on the unemployment rate, look no further than Tech Dump in St Paul. The company repairs and refurbishes old electronics and gives its employees a second chance, too.

“Never seen nothing like it,” said Terry Little, who started working at Tech Dump in March, through its jobs training program. “It’s an 18-month program [for] people coming out of prison or probation, or stuff like that.”

With low unemployment comes a wave of new opportunities for people like Little who, even just a few years ago, saw few options for sustainable, practical careers.

Today, a growing number of companies are reconsidering barriers to entry, such as a criminal record. Tech Dump CEO Amanda LaGrange has noticed the trend, because she’s been asked to consult and help lead the way.

“A lot of businesses are seeing for the first time what we at Tech Dump have seen for years,” LaGrange said. “There are individuals with great skills, talents, commitment and passion to bring to an organization. It’s not in the employer’s court to retool and prepare for a group of people that maybe they haven’t employed in the past.”

LaGrange says Tech Dump is getting more applications than jobs it can offer in part because of the encouragingly low unemployment rate, yet a juxtaposition to the dilemma many companies face given the same job market.

Businesses, particularly ones in retail, are willing to do just about anything to get seasonal workers on-board. Amazon, Target, and several mall stores have increased hourly pay in the past couple of years, while a Mankato-based retailer has an even bigger approach: raffle off a free car.

“Hey, we’re looking for 2,000 people,” said Fun.com CEO Tom Fallenstein. Fun.com is the largest online seller of Halloween costumes. “[We asked], what gets people to talk about that? That’s where the car came from.”

On a peak October day, Fun.com’s North Mankato warehouse fulfills about 50,000 orders. In 2018, it was so short-staffed, it hired friends and family members of full-time employees, to help out on any given day.

That hints at who has the most to gain from an opportunity like this, and the low unemployment rate as a whole.

“We get a mix of every type of person. We get your high schoolers and their first time job, your college students who are looking for a flexible schedule around their schooling. We get retired people that, you know, just want to do something for a little while for a short period of time, and people looking for Christmas money,” Fallenstein said.

Each of the seasonal workers will be entered to win a Honda Fit, with the winner being drawn during a raffle in November.

Christiane Cordero

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