Finding and hiring skilled workers in the mechanical contracting space has been an ongoing challenge for business owners for years. A shortage of skilled labor, evolving skill requirements, technological advancements, and a highly competitive job market have all compounded the issue, leaving employers to find new ways of attracting and retaining the right employees to accomplish their goals.
Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are in demand for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being that many have retired or are nearing retirement age, and there are not enough new workers to replace them. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) estimates that 60,000 plumbers retire each year, and there are only 30,000 new apprentices entering the field annually. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for these professionals is expected to grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Meanwhile, the hydronic heating industry is poised to grow by $1.3 billion from 2021-2025. With the growth of these industries and subsequent talent gap, owners of small- to mid-sized businesses interested in attracting high-level job candidates must be ready to offer more than what other companies in their industries are promising.
Here are six trending employee benefits that organizations in the mechanical contracting industry should consider offering if they want to win in today’s hiring landscape.
1. Health Savings & Flexible Spending Accounts
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) allow employees to save money for health expenses tax-free. Providing employee HSAs and FSAs helps organizations improve access to affordable health care for their workers. HSAs can also help organizations reduce payroll taxes and increase employee satisfaction for 2024 and beyond.
Contribution limits for HSAs in 2024 include $4,150 for self-only coverage and $8,300 for family coverage. Contributions limits for FSAs in 2024 are $3,200.
2. Unique & Non-Traditional Voluntary Benefits
Basic health insurance and 401(k) contributions are not always enough to keep employees and their families healthy and financially protected. Instead, employees want a holistic approach to benefits that addresses their overall well-being, including work-life balance, mental health support and financial guidance.
Standard benefits, like medical, dental or vision care, are typically included in most employee benefits plans. However, many employees now seek more specific voluntary benefits, like pet insurance or identity theft protection, which can be better tailored to their needs. Voluntary benefits can be paid for in a variety of ways and can include many innovative and creative offerings.
These benefits provide employees with an array of additional services at a reduced rate or free of cost. Voluntary benefits are a popular trend in employee benefits because they allow employers to provide added value to their employees while maintaining business budgets. Other voluntary benefits could include wellness/lifestyle programs, financial counseling and tax preparation services.
3. Assistance with Student Loan Repayment
After more than three years and eight loan pause extensions, over 43 million Americans are making their student loan payments again. With workers of all ages repaying student debt, student loan assistance should be a key consideration in the enhancement of employee benefit programs. Under the current student loan repayment rules, employees could receive up to $5,250 per year toward student loan payments as part of their educational assistance benefits at a company through the CARES Act.
With many individuals in these industries having student loan debt from vocational school or career training, here are ways employers can offer student loan repayment as an employee benefit:
A fixed monthly contribution—Every employee gets a monthly stipend toward student loans. Employers can increase the contribution based on employee tenure.
A matched percentage of the employee’s monthly payment—Similar to a 401(k), the employer matches a percentage based on the employee’s monthly paycheck. With a sliding scale system, each employee receives what they need.
A choice between matching contributions to their retirement fund or student loan repayments—Provides employees the choice between student loan repayment and retirement funds to avoid taking on additional benefits costs. Some employees may choose to contribute to retirement accounts, while others will prefer student loan assistance.
Here are ways that your organization’s student loan repayment program can get started on the right foot:
Set an annual budget—Determine how much your company is willing to spend annually on student loan assistance for its employees.
Gauge interest from your employees—Whether through surveys, internal communication or interviews, obtain a general sense of how many employees are interested in utilizing student loan assistance.
Determine employee eligibility—Figure out which employees will be eligible for this company benefit.
Follow IRS guidelines—It is essential that employers only use job-based criteria and not salary-based criteria to determine who is eligible for this program.
Select a third-party administrator—Partner with a third-party company that can manage and administer this benefit to your workforce.
4. Homeowner Assistance
With this benefit, employees can contribute a portion of their income to a homeowner savings plan (like a 401(k) contribution). Types of employer-assisted housing programs include:
Down Payment Assistance—Employers provide funds to assist employees with the initial down payment on a house.
Shared Ownership—The employer may purchase a share in the property, which the employee can buy out over time.
Guaranteed Loans—Employers may guarantee or subsidize housing loans, which can secure lower interest rates for the employees.
Rental Assistance—This includes subsidies or rent discounts for homes close to the workplace.
5. The Importance of Family-Centric Benefits
Family-centric benefits are becoming increasingly important for attracting and retaining talent, engaging today’s workforce and increasing employee satisfaction. Consider offering fertility benefits, family and parental leave, adoption benefits, and other family-friendly benefits when evaluating your benefits offerings to attract and retain top talent from all generations.
6. SECURE 2.0 Act
The SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 builds off the original SECURE Act of 2019 with the goal of making it easier to help people save for retirement. It introduces new opportunities for individuals to build their retirement savings and provides employers with additional methods to offer retirement plans. The plan includes a wide range of provisions, from making it easier for people to catch up on their savings to removing administrative barriers related to setting up retirement accounts.
The Act’s impact to retirement planning includes:
● Automatic enrollment for retirement plans
● Changes in Required Minimum Distribution (see irs.gov for details)
● Student loan repayments eligible for employer match
● Expanded eligibility for part-time employees
● Optional Roth contributions for employees
● Increased limit for catch-up payments
● More exemptions from early withdrawal penalties
Increasing your focus on retirement planning assistance for your employees can help them be at ease in their planning and allow them to focus more on work and less on finances. These changes make 2024 a great time to evaluate your retirement offerings for your employees.
Cheri Wheeler is Vice President and Senior Consultant, Kelly Benefits Strategies. Kelly Benefits is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing providers of benefits administration and technology, broker and consulting services, payroll solutions and other comprehensive tools and strategies to serve businesses of all sizes.