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Help Wanted - Signs of the Times

Story by Pat Cole

What seemed to be a local challenge for employers in the Village to hire enough people to staff their businesses is now global. We read about the supply chain breaking down and consumers finding shortages worldwide because staffing is a problem in almost every industry. We also talked with business owners in Fair Oaks Village who rely on hiring staff to gear up to full operations to ask what they thought was behind the shortage of workers.

Here's what we learned.

There are many explanations for the shortage. Some business owners blame pandemic unemployment benefits. They say they incentivized employees to stay home because they took home more money than when fully employed. And while those benefits expired in early September, potential employees can still collect unemployment which allows them to stay home while collecting unemployment as long as they show proof that they looked for a job.

According to a July 8, 2021 article in Forbes, only 6% of unemployment recipients would be motivated to go back to work when their unemployment benefits ended. Only 14% of those surveyed were getting more money from unemployment benefits than from their last job.

Others felt this is a multifaceted situation and that blaming unemployment does not address the more complicated issues. Some of the issues that complicate this situation are:

  1. According to Politico, "Nearly 1.8 million women dropped out of the labor force amid the pandemic and are now grappling with whether and how to return to work in a vastly different landscape." The Washington Post reported that "People are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated, and their children are back in school and daycare is available full time. Women don't want to risk their health for jobs that don't pay well, and childcare and stable school schedules have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. For example, all the job gains in April went to men. The number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000, a reminder that childcare issues are still in play."

  2. When the pandemic caused their jobs to dry up, many workers moved in with relatives or found other less expensive ways to live. That allowed them to use their time, unemployment, and stimulus benefits to find jobs better suited to their economic and health needs by retraining for different careers. This year, a Pew Research Center survey found that 66 percent of the unemployed had "seriously considered" changing their field of work, a far more significant percentage than during the Great Recession.

  3. Some employees didn't want to return to an occupation that put them at risk for Covid, even after the vaccine was available. They didn't want to work with people who refused the vaccine, exposing vaccinated employees to the new variant. Some employees lived with the elderly, children too young for vaccination, or immune-compromised family members and didn't want to risk bringing the virus home. Others felt they weren’t making enough money to return to difficult, dirty, and usually thankless jobs where they are often yelled at and disrespected by customers who have lost patience with Covid rules and short staffing.

  4. The housing crisis also made finding rentals nearly impossible in our community. It motivated some potential employees to relocate to find housing either in California or out of state.

  5. One of employers' most significant concerns is how potential hires are "ghosting" them (candidates who don't show up to scheduled interviews, don't arrive on the first day of work, or even quit without giving notice.). One employer mentioned receiving 50 responses to an ad for hiring, interviewed the most qualified, and was only able to offer two positions. Only one of the new hires showed up for work, and the other one "ghosted" the employer, a widespread occurrence not unlike the years where competition for jobs was high and employers "ghosted" applicants.

Here are a few national guidelines for attracting workers:

  • Offer competitive salaries and benefits when possible

  • Emphasize employee safety

  • Make it easy to apply

  • Be prepared to move fast

  • Promote your business's culture on social media

Meanwhile, we can all help by being more patient and kind as customers and spreading the word when we see openings that might benefit someone we know. Word of mouth, either personally or digitally, is worth its weight in gold.

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