Southpaw Softwash owner Todd Vollertsen worries young people think exterior work is too hard | Photos by Rūta Smith

In the fast-paced race for employees, two tri-county companies can’t find enough job candidates to choose from regardless of the skills required for the positions.

Todd Vollertsen, owner of Southpaw Softwash, recently bumped his company’s starting salary from $15 to $18 an hour in a desperate attempt to fill two entry-level jobs. Vollertson purchased the 3-year-old company in February. Four employees at his high-end service clean the exterior of historic homes and houses on the resort islands and commercial buildings.

At the other end of the wage and skill spectrum, Willis Cantey, president of the 92-employee Cantey Tech Consulting in North Charleston is “casting a wider net” to fill seven jobs, including two entry-level intern positions. Cantey founded the company 15 years ago this July with himself and two employees. The company also has offices in Summerville and Greenville. 

Cantey’s available positions offer a starting hourly pay of $18 to $20 that could become full-time salaried positions with benefits after six months of training. Junior technicians help information technology staff install computers and manage a variety of other tasks.

Vollertsen and Cantey have different views on the pandemic’s effect on their inability to find workers.

After the pandemic, companies quickened the pace to find employees, Vollertsen said. “What has changed?” he asked. “The economy is not hotter than before the pandemic so what has changed? I don’t know where people are or where they are getting the money” to stay home and decline work.

Cantey said the job market has “moved beyond the pandemic. I don’t see how that affects our [IT] industry in particular, especially given that the majority of it can be done from home. There are just not enough applicants.” 

Striking out with recruiters

Vollersten said, “I think the younger people we are talking to [think] exterior work is too hard. They want an easier job. But it is also the labor market. We have not had the responses to our ads.” Since March only six people have responded to them, he added.

To find candidates for two assistant tech positions, Vollertsen has used social media and the job-search services Indeed and ZipRecuriter, with no success. He also has hired a recruiting agency, but the price of its services further adds to his operating cost. To meet recent high school graduates not planning on college or the military, Vollertsen came up short again during job fairs at Ashley Ridge and Woodland high schools in Dorchester County.

“We have increased our pay because we know the cost of living has gone up with higher fuel and food prices, and we’ve had a 20% price increase to cover our cost,” he said.

The wage for an entry-level job starts at $18 an hour then it could rise to $20 an hour after 60 days of training, Vollersten said, adding his top-level lead technicians can earn $40,000 to $60,000 annually. With two more employees, he explained, he could double his current capacity of cleaning one or two structures daily. “We have room for growth,” he said. “We are willing to pay and willing to offer opportunities for growth.”

Vollertston plans to move his Ridgeville-based company to Summerville at the end of the year when he’ll offer full benefits. He hopes the higher starting salary brings more people “to us so we can get better-qualified applicants. Good labor is not cheap, and cheap labor is not good.”

Not every IT position requires a four-year degree

Forty percent of Cantey Tech’s employees reside in the Lowcountry, with 30% living in South Carolina and 30% out of state. Many of them work from home. “We are hiring from all over the country,” Cantey said. “Many of these positions in IT support and consulting can be filled remotely. Although, I’d prefer to hire locally.” The applicant pool for the remote positions are full, he said. But he’s just not getting enough applicants for the local jobs. According to a work demand study prepared by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the average wage for computer, engineering and science jobs is $80,523 in 2019.

Southpaw Softwash owner Todd Vollertsen works with Jakob McGuire, an assistant tech in training. Vollertsen has recently increased starting pay to help offset the high cost of living in the Lowsountry.

“We have seven openings, and I would like to fill them all by five o’clock today,” he said with a laugh. “We have been looking for these positions on average for forty-five days. We are also working very hard to make Cantey Tech a place where people stay. It is not just that it is hard to find people, it can be hard to keep people.”

The tri-county education system produces potential employees, said Cantey, who serves on the advisory committee at Trident Technical College. But enough people, he added, are not choosing the IT field. The Charleston City Paper asked why not?  “I don’t know,” he responded. “It does not require extensive post-secondary education … and a lot of debt. But it does require a detailed focus, a lot of interaction with the clients and end users, and it does require good technical trouble-shooting skills.”

Cantey’s two available entry-level internship positions, however, only require a candidate to have an associates technology degree or demonstrate they plan to complete a degree program, he said. “We don’t need five years experience for every position.” 

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