In its surge to hire 1,000 workers in three years, window maker Andersen Corp. tried hard to counter tight labor market trends by making its workplace more inclusive.

The company provided workers with onsite English classes, prayer rooms and foot baths. It made work hours more flexible, such as adding pick-your-own holidays. And it started to recruit at multicultural events.

Its latest efforts target the hard-of-hearing and deaf population in Minnesota, after discovering that it had a cluster of 13 workers sprinkled across its factories in Bayport, Cottage Grove and Dubuque, Iowa.

The discovery launched the Bayport-based company into overdrive. Today it is installing new communication technologies, hiring accessibility coaches and sign language interpreters, and actively recruiting deaf job candidates for the first time.

"Inclusiveness is ... an enabler for strong talent pipelines," said Andersen spokeswoman Aliki Vrohidis. The company must add adaptive technology to help with communication and make all work "environments, systems and processes more accessible for deaf or hard-of-hearing people."

While Andersen did not provide details, all these steps come with a price tag estimated to exceed $100,000. Still, filling job openings — currently at 200 — is a must to keep expanding.

Despite news of recent corporate layoffs at companies such as 3M, Medtronic and Amazon, Andersen is among many Minnesota employers still grappling with the historically low unemployment rate (2.8%) and scrambling to find new workers to fill vacancies.

Some, like Hormel in Austin, Minn., and Marvin windows in Warroad are building employees new day-care centers, while other firms such as quartz countertop maker Cambria have opened English-learning schools inside their factories. Now Andersen is building out amenities that cater to deaf workers and recruits.

The race to find new hires has pushed many employers to accommodate staffers with a blend of fun workplace perks, employee benefits, higher wages and newly flexible remote work, said Jim Link, chief human resource officer of the Society for Human Resource Managers recently.

"It's two jobs openings for every unemployed person nationally. It's been on going for months. It's just crazy," Link said. "Employers are doing all kinds of things to address that."

The plight has prompted chambers of commerce, the state, community advocates and human resource officials to encourage more employers to consider overlooked labor pools — including veterans, people with nonviolent criminal records, non-English speakers and people with disabilities.

"I love this story so much because of how much Andersen has done and committed. It is a game-changer for the deaf community," said Austin Beatty, program supervisor at the nonprofit Minnesota Employment Center For People Who Are Deaf, DeafBlind or Hard of Hearing (MEC).

"Sadly, we get calls only two or three times a year directly from an employer," Beatty said. But Andersen reached out not only to help new recruits but for advice on how to help the hard-of-hearing employees feel more included. The company, he said, also wanted to improve retention.

Mike Clark notices the supportive changes. He has worked for Andersen for 26 years, most recently as the company's information technology director. He reads lips and doesn't use sign language.

"When I started, it was definitely a different day and time," he said. "I had to fend for myself. But in the last few years, we have expanded our inclusivity. We have invested in language staff. ... We are not perfect, but we are striving to be a better workplace and including our deaf workers in coming up with the solutions."

Only 53% of deaf adults are employed nationwide, according to the census' American Community Survey. There are an estimated 1.1 million Minnesotans who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to Culture Care Connection, so providing supportive and meaningful job opportunities is important, Beatty said.

On a recent rainy Saturday, dozens swarmed Andersen's booth at the annual deaf Culture, Language and Careers Fair at White Bear Lake High School to learn what it was like to work inside one of America's largest window makers.

For hours, Clark was part of a team that met job candidates and their families. By day's end, the group had a list of job applicants set for factory interviews.

It was the first time anyone at the 120-year-old window and door maker had attended the fair.

"It was one of the top moments in my career," said Maureen Peterson, the talent acquisition lead who already recommitted Andersen for next year.

Using sign language, deaf casement window line worker Tami Jessen told the crowd how she left a retail team leader job a year ago to join Andersen's window assembly line in Cottage Grove and recruited her son.

Communication was hard at her old employer.

Her former company "didn't know how to make me understand. It's why I left. Andersen makes sure I understand." It enlarged the print on the closed-captioning monitors, had Keystone Interpreting Solutions provide interpreters at meetings and recently hired its own interpreter and accessibility coach.

It wasn't always that way, said Dawson Moder, a Gallaudet University graduate whose brother recruited him to join Andersen's casement window line nearly two years ago.

Surrounded by fairgoers, Moder signed that when he joined Andersen he decided to educate human resource managers by sharing how past jobs did not allow him to drive a forklift or use certain saws because he was deaf. He insisted he "can do anything," but needs the same access to opportunities as everyone else.

That feedback pushed Andersen Training and Organizational Development Manager Julie Strommen to act. She asked Beatty from the employment center to interview all its deaf employees and debrief company leaders. She brought in Keystone and in December hired Ander Bolduc, an accessibility expert, certified sign language interpreter and a former associate director at the University of Minnesota's Disability Resource Center.

Now Bolduc interprets for Andersen, checks in with staffers and ensures accessible practices are used.

"Hiring Ander was the key ingredient for how we can build systems and infrastructure to make all things are accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing," Strommen said.

The company has realized the deaf community is diverse and needs representation, she said, though she acknowledged there is more work to do.

Strommen and Bolduc want factory lights to flash when it is break time, for example. They also want to incorporate on-demand, live-video sign language interpreting services so deaf workers on the night shift can communicate when there's a problem.

A recent education initiative is teaching all employees about deaf culture and basics. There are telephone relay services, for example, that can have a connection delay — so not to hang up. And there is a proper etiquette for interacting with a deaf worker. A tap on the arm to get someone's attention. "Don't throw things," Bolduc said.

Moder, who was promoted, said he likes Andersen's progress. He recently bought a house and is Andersen's first deaf employee to attend leadership development training.

"To see all of the things change so quickly is great. At other places you just have to keep on pushing and being flexible," Moder told job fairgoers. "It's a great place with great benefits and great pay. But really, what makes me feel like staying here and making this be my place is that deaf people are included."