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Bonus Bonanza: More jobs are offering hiring incentives, and it's likely to continue.

Experts say hiring bonuses tend to generate interest, and they serve a specific purpose in this economy.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you've noticed a lot of headlines about a lot of different kinds of jobs offering hiring bonuses recently, you're on to something.

Saint Paul Public Schools just joined a growing number of jobs, in a growing number of industries, that are offering the upfront incentive for special education teachers and other in-demand jobs. 

Experts say it's no surprise for two reasons: Minnesota's low unemployment rate combined with increased uncertainty surrounding the economy at large.

"Hiring bonuses are a way to get somebody for less than you would if you were just increasing salary to be competitive," said John Kammeyer-Mueller, a professor of Work and Organizations at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. "It's an inexpensive way to get someone into a job because you only have to pay somebody once, as opposed to a permanent salary increase that you're paying over a number of years."

While hiring bonuses have been common for years for those with highly sought-after degrees, like MBAs and Engineering, Kammeyer-Mueller says the trend had recently expanded to industries like trucking, bus driving, train crews, corrections officers, and now teaching/special education.

Kent Erdahl: "Do we know if these bonuses work?"

Kammeyer-Mueller: "Yeah, hiring bonuses do induce people to take jobs who might not otherwise, especially relative to competitors. That's the main reason you do it, based on competitive pressure. You think another is offering a different level, or a similar level of salary, what's the thing that can get you across the line to agree to take a job."

Kammeyer-Mueller says the use of bonuses across industries, signals a shift in the way the workforce is approaching some of those careers, especially as other benefits have tended to be cut back.

"Those are jobs that we've traditionally thought of as, you start your profession in that field and you end your professional life in the same field," he said. "I think there's less attraction to that among new job entrants, relative to what there would have been in the past."

According to Metro Transit, which announced hiring bonuses for bus drivers recently, says they have received more than 700 applicants since the first of the year. 

For Metro Transit, the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and many others who have added the bonus programs, they are designed to help attract new people into the workforce and are often tied to training to get new hires licensed for the job.

But for St. Paul Public Schools, that's not the specific goal. The district is offering up to $10 thousand in hiring bonuses for highly specialized special education roles, and $4,000 for other in-demand teaching specialties.

Kammeyer-Mueller: "Nobody is getting a bonus, as a teacher, to induce them to become a teacher, it's to come to school district or job A versus job B, versus job C."

Erdahl: "So now that you're seeing this, do you think they'll be others offering bonuses now, in other school districts?"

Kammeyer-Mueller: "It would make sense that you would see that sort of process happening. If it's happening in one, it's probably going to happen in others."

And he says that could make the fine print even more important. In St. Paul, the bonuses will paid in three installments, over two years. After that, he says, all bets are off.

"There's evidence that people do (leave the job) after that. If I have job A, where I get this short-term bonus, and then I see that Job B makes more in the long term, I take job A for a couple years and then I switch to job B," he said. "So that shift happens a lot." 

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