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Help Wanted: The Nonprofit Workforce Shortage in Maine (Part 1)

by Mary Alice Scott

It’s no big secret, the workforce shortage in Maine is real and it’s impacting all of us. Whether its paramedics, childcare providers, or agricultural workers, employers are struggling to recruit and retain quality employees.

Just take a look at our job board and you’ll see the breadth and depth of organizations looking to add to their team.

In the Fall of 2021, our partners at the National Council of Nonprofits posted an online survey to gauge the scope of the workforce shortage problems for charitable organizations and determine the impact on their abilities to advance their missions. The results are in and provide hard evidence to back up what we’ve been seeing on the ground.

The core question the survey sought to explore was, “What is your nonprofit’s current job vacancy rate?” Nearly half (48%) of respondents in Maine reported vacancies of between 10 and 19 percent. One in four Maine nonprofits (26%) shared job vacancy rates of between 0 and 9 percent, and a troubling 21 percent responded that they had job openings for 20% to 29% of their positions. Another 5% reported vacancies greater than 30 percent.

As mission driven organizations, especially those in the human services sector, these staffing shortages can have serious consequences. If a restaurant is short on employees, you may not be able to get a reservation or your food might take a little longer. But in our field, being short-staffed can be deadly.

A healthcare and mental health provider wrote of empty beds in their group home due to staffing vacancies and a growing list of for special-needs children waiting months for services, all while anticipating more vacancies in a workforce “stressed after working so many additional hours trying to fill these gaps.”

The impact of the shortages can be seen in virtually every local community as nonprofits are forced to restrict needed services, institute waiting lists, or close operations entirely. Because individuals and communities rely so heavily on charitable nonprofits for their wellbeing, the nonprofit workforce shortage impacts everyone.

The survey also sought to identify why nonprofits – organizations accustomed to attracting staff dedicated to the missions of the organizations – were having difficulty retaining and attracting employees. The factors reported from Maine survey respondents are telling:

  • Eight out of 10 nonprofits (79%) responding to the survey identified salary competition as a factor preventing them from filling job openings.
  • More than sixteen percent of respondents (16.3%) stated that the inability to find child care affected recruitment and retention.
  • About one in four respondents (26.3%) reported not being sure what was affecting recruitment and retention.
  • Vaccination policies affect approximately one in four (26.3%) respondents.

Ultimately, it is no longer enough to convince potential employees that nonprofit work is noble work, employees must be adequately compensated, especially when there is competition for their services. But again, our field is unique, and while that restaurant we mentioned above might be able to increase the cost of a meal to cover it costs, it isn’t as simple for mission driven organizations.

Like all of our work, the problems facing us are multi-fold and require a dynamic and sustainable response. It requires collaboration and cross-sector partnership. In part two of this series, we’ll share how MANP is encouraging policymakers to address this crisis and how you can help.

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