Inside Chattanooga’s job market: An HR expert explores local salary decisions, hiring trends and employee benefits

Photo by Robin Rudd / The downtown Chattanooga skyline is seen, with Lookout Mountain in the distance.
Photo by Robin Rudd / The downtown Chattanooga skyline is seen, with Lookout Mountain in the distance.

What factors influence how companies decide on employee salaries in Chattanooga?

There are many variables when deciding on a starting salary. Generally, it depends on the local demand for each role and availability of talent. Employers can work with a local recruiter to gain an understanding of how much a given role is rising in terms of popularity and compensation and get an estimate for the market average.

Salary ranges are often bench marked around local market rates. Resources like the Robert Half Salary Guide can give hiring managers a feel for the salary a particular role will command in Chattanooga. All things being equal, most companies will look to pay at the midpoint of an average salary range. Large companies in highly competitive industries may have the budget power to pay at the higher end of the spectrum. Some small companies, on the other hand, may have no choice but to offer a lesser dollar figure.

For the most in-demand roles where talent is hard to come by, employers should strive to offer not only a competitive salary at the high end – or in excess of – the range for that role, but also enticing perks and benefits. Those employers that can't offer the most competitive salary can strive to offer a competitive level of flexibility to employees.

Robert Half research shows that the number one perk workers want today is flexibility.

How would you describe the current market for hiring workers in Chattanooga?

According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Chattanooga is lower than the national average (3.2% compared to 3.7%).

Companies were slower to hire throughout 2023, but the beginning of 2024 is looking more optimistic. According to the Robert Half State of U.S. Hiring report, nearly six in ten companies are planning to hire for new permanent positions in the first half of 2024.

Employers have been more selective throughout the hiring process, but many anticipate company growth in 2024 to contribute to increased hiring. In addition, many organizations had to put projects on hold during 2023 but anticipate resuming them in the early stages of 2024.

Hiring challenges still exist. Many organizations are trying to maintain staff levels and fill vacated roles caused by turnover.

While job openings are still above pre-pandemic highs, workers are also being more selective with new opportunities. Many of them made career moves during the Great Resignation and have prioritized their current flexible work arrangement.

Have starting wages in Chattanooga been increased to attract new hires?

While wage growth continues to go up, many employers are not offering the same high salaries and bonuses that they were during the Great Resignation.

Many professionals made moves in 2022 or early 2023 due to a spike in wages brought on by a tight talent market, but we've seen some leveling off from that. Workers are now carefully evaluating new opportunities. Those who received notable salary increases during their last move aren't as likely to receive a similar offer in today's market.

How significant are employee benefits like health care, retirement plans and other perks in Chattanooga's overall compensation packages?

Employer-provided benefits and perks help keep workers happy; and a happy team tends to be more productive, creative and loyal. Workers have options, and will pursue jobs that help them balance professional, personal, and in many cases, parental responsibilities.

Flexibility and hybrid work options are a key priority for workers today, and continuing to offer these can go a long way in attracting and retaining talent. Beyond flexibility, companies should evaluate their other perks and benefits that support employee well being to ensure they are competitive.

Mallory Smith serves as an expert at Robert Half, specializing in recruiting and staffing for administrative and customer support roles. She joined the global specialized staffing firm in January 2008 as a staffing manager. Presently, she is an active board member with the local chapter of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), and has served on many Chattanooga-area boards in the past.

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