The story isn't a new one in Minnesota: The unemployment rate is near historic lows. Companies are fighting for the same candidates, resulting in higher pay. Or they can't find enough people with the right skills.

Hormel is building a child-care center in Austin, Minn., to help with a barrier it saw. Others are supporting short-term affordable housing or offering four-day weeks.

Some are employing more traditional strategies, but the key to all the efforts is to go beyond simply issuing job postings in the continuing tight job market.

"There are two major challenges we're seeing and experiencing this year: a competitive market and gaps in skills," said Megan Meehan, early career program lead at Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos., 14th on the Star Tribune Top Workplaces list of large companies. "When it comes to the market, in order to secure top talent, the recruitment process needs to start early. This includes building a pipeline of candidates before the job is even open and attending career fairs in the fall to fill internships that start in the summer."

Other strategies suggested by the Academy to Innovate HR include tapping your own workforce to be a type of branding campaign by recruiting people. More than 60% of companies that have incentives for employee referrals said on a recent survey that the program reduced how long it took them to find employees.

A formal and savvy branding campaign for job searches also is necessary, added to regular online marketing and amplification of company values and culture, the group said.

The group said companies might need to find non-traditional candidates, whether training potential employees themselves or looking to populations such as retirees who want to work part-time.

Meehan agreed that companies need to be prepared to offer training and development to bridge skill gaps and also retain employees.

Ryan is a large firm with a long history. Best known for its construction and development work, Ryan's business also includes architecture, real estate management and capital markets. Even if you're not familiar with the company's operations, you've probably seen Ryan signs on buildings and construction sites all over the Twin Cities.

"Clearly the reputation helps," said Tony Barranco, north region president for Ryan, which has 1,700 employees with offices in 17 U.S. cities. "We have so many different types of positions. Recruiting each one of them is a little bit different."

A construction job that includes environmental sciences, for example, will demand candidates with specialized expertise and training.

Ryan offers an intensive internship for construction management. Barranco estimates that about 75% of participants in the program are hired by Ryan.

Overall, Ryan has 70 to 90 interns every year, Meehan said. All interns are paired with a mentor.

"We get the majority of our positions filled through career fairs," Meehan said. "We go to about 60 career fairs a year, and we go to schools across the country."

Ryan also uses an app called Handshake to connect with college students, she said.

The company emphasizes inclusion with seven employee resource groups focused on different communities: Black, Latino and Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, military veterans, women and mental health.

Benefits include profit-sharing and offering no co-pay or out-of-pocket costs for mental health care, Barranco said.

Inclusion and mental health benefits are important to younger workers, according to the Academy to Innovate HR.

Even before the pandemic, it was hard to find factory workers and pay was going up.

It has only gotten more challenging, said Erica Amevo, vice president of human resources for GF (formerly Uponor), a global firm with North American headquarters in Apple Valley. The company, which was bought last year by Georg Fischer Ltd. in Switzerland and ranks 29th on the Top Workplaces large company list, makes PEX, flexible plastic tubing that is widely used in residential and commercial plumbing.

Competition for candidates can be intense. "Everybody's trying to get the same people to work for them," Amevo said.

It has forced GF to take some "tactical" moves, she said.

When several job candidates were not showing up for interviews, for example, GF started handing out gas cards to prospective employees just for showing up.

Eden Prairie-based Starkey Hearing Technologies, the largest hearing aid maker in the U.S., leans on employee referrals, said Jessica Perez, chief people officer for the company. The product itself is a draw as well because people believe they are doing meaningful work.

So are other networks the company — which is 37th on the large company list — has built over the years.

"We have a lot of very strong relationships and partnerships with universities and other organizations and that also creates a network for us," Perez said.

It helps that the company has an on-site medical clinic and a gym. It also prides itself on the food in the cafeteria.

"With our employees, it's one of the highlights," Perez said.

Brainerd-based CTC — which offers internet, TV and phone service and is 47th on the Top Workplaces list of small companies — believes its employees are the best advertising.

"We find most of our candidates come from word of mouth," said Mikayla Skarolid, employee relations specialist, and the company offers bonuses for employee referrals.

Skarolid also is a fan of a well-written job posting. She said it needs to go beyond the basic duties and give a strong sense of what the company is like.

"Avoid bland job postings," Skarolid said. "Showcase who you are and what your culture is."