Local officials and employers tout multiple reasons for labor shortage

LANCASTER – Ale House 1890 owner Matt Brady has such a hard time finding employees that he only offers lunch hours on Saturdays at his Main Street restaurant.

“Locally, the job market for some positions is virtually non-existent,” said Brady, who also owns the Provisions restaurant downtown. “I struggled between two companies. I received fewer applications in 12 months than I would normally receive in a month.”

Other local officials and business owners are also concerned about the difficulties employers have in finding workers, including Mayor David Scheffler, Fairfield County Economic Development Director Rick Szabrak, Director of Services at the Fairfield County employment and family Corey Clark and key company owner Brad Hutchinson.

July figures from the Ohio Department of Employment and Family show the state’s unemployment rate at 5.4%. The workforce has 5,603,600 workers, of which 5,303,000 are employed and 300,600 are unemployed.

The unemployment rate in Fairfield County was 5.2% in July. The total workforce amounts to 78,100 people, including 74,000 active and 4,100 unemployed.

There are various theories as to why there is a labor shortage.

One theory is that extended unemployment benefits and the additional financial assistant from the federal government led more people to make more money by not working, as well as child tax credits. Federal aid has ended, however, and Szabrak said employers and JFS ‘Ohio Means Jobs service have seen more job seekers since the federal money ceased.

“Previously, the job search under your unemployment conditions was suppressed,” Szabrak said. “But that has not been lifted anymore. So now you have to look for a job if you are on unemployment benefit. These things have certainly helped, but it is not only that. We are naive to think that these are just these funds. “

Szabrak said other reasons employers struggle to find help include parents’ concerns about child custody and the risk that students have to come home and self-quarantine if they are. exposed to COVID-19. He said many open jobs don’t offer the flexibility of working from home to care for a child at home.

“If you don’t have a job that can be flexible with where you work or when you work, it becomes very difficult at times like these where you need that flexibility if you have kids around. ‘school,’ Szabrak said. “It’s hard to tell a single parent of two who has kids in school to go back to work or start a new job where you usually don’t get paid vacation pay from day one, knowing that in the first couple of weeks, you might have to stay home with your kids. “

Additionally, Szabrak said some people are worried about catching the virus and don’t want to go to the workplace.

But whatever the reasons, officials and business owners have said there are plenty of local jobs available for those who want them. They also said employers have increased wages and other benefits to attract workers. Yet the labor shortage persists.

Brady said about 3/4 of the requests he receives are not of good quality. He also said six and eight months ago that he was not receiving any requests.

“At all,” he said. “And we continued to use all of our normal advertising methods and nothing was going through the door. Then we started receiving applications. The quality of the application on a scale of 1 to 10, 80% of them were three or less.

“We had such mediocre candidates. People who had no experience. People who had so much work. These are people who, normally, quite frankly, I would never speak with.”

However, Brady said the job market was so bad that he hired people he wouldn’t normally hire.

He said he knew of other employers in the restaurant industry and other industries who have the same issues. Brady said his problems were more with finding help in the kitchen than with the waiters.

Scheffler said there is no doubt that the central Ohio region is facing a labor shortage.

“I think I could comfortably say that all of the industrial, commercial, retail, and service businesses in the county and town have a Help Wanted disconnect and are cutting or slowing down their operations because they can’t find people to work, ”he said.

For example, Scheffler said that Anchor Hocking currently needs an additional 100 employees and that an additional 250 will be needed next year when the company brings a third production tank online.

He said he recently saw a sign on a downtown restaurant saying it had closed early for the day due to understaffing.

“It’s pretty much everywhere,” Scheffler said. “We had an opening in our gas department for a supervisor position. It’s a well-paid job with the city. We posted it both indoors and outdoors and got no applications from the outside. Fortunately, we had a few good internal candidates, but no one from out of town applied. “

Hutchinson also said there were more jobs than people to fill them.

“I think there are a lot of pieces that come into play,” he said. “Everyone is quick to say, ‘Well, people don’t want to work.’ The reality is that there is a small percentage of our population who never go to work. They don’t, they won’t. Society allows them not to do it because we refuse to let anyone go hungry. , which is really the motivation you need sometimes to get people out of the system. “

Hutchinson also said employers have a hard time finding workers because some people cannot pass a drug test.

“Drug use has become more common,” he said. “You have a lot of individuals, young and old, it’s not just the kids anymore who think that smoking weed at night is more important to them than being able to take a drug test to get a voucher. job. So these people are forced to work where there is no drug test. “

On the flip side, Hutchinson said some workers are taking advantage of the plethora of jobs to improve themselves by moving from one job to another.

“Right now people are more willing to train than before,” he said. “We (the company key) are in the same boat.”

Szabrak said the region is in a buyer’s market for job seekers and the shortage has forced employers to raise wages. His wages in the last quarter of 2020 were up $ 5,000, or 14%, per year from 2019 in the county.

He said open jobs tended to be more in manufacturing, logistics and frontline positions, albeit with healthcare positions.

“There are a lot of openings and someone can come in tomorrow and find a job in one of these operations with minimal or no experience,” Szabrak said. “They need people. There was a labor shortage before COVID. What COVID did, I think, accelerated a labor gap.”

He said this was in part due to people nearing retirement age who decided to retire when COVID-19 hit.

Clark said JFS works with a number of employers who cannot fill the positions.

“And they’ve had this problem for a little while,” he said. “I know that’s why you’ve seen the wages go up, the starting wages go up. If you drive on Memorial Drive you see all the fast food outlets hire and start at $ 14, $ 15, $ 16 from the time.”

Clark said the ongoing pandemic is the main reason for the labor shortage, which he says is a nationwide problem. Like Szabrak, he spoke about childcare issues and the need for parents to stay home with children while they learn from a distance. Clark also said health issues may prevent some from working.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know all the reasons,” he said. “I know some of the reasons. If I knew them all, that would be great because I would like to address some of them.”

But regardless, Clark said it was a great time to find a job and also a good time for older workers who want to change careers, in part because employers have lowered their qualifications. He said some employers are just looking for people who come to work every day and follow instructions so they can be trained for the job.

Those who need help finding employment can visit the JFS for a variety of job search services. But Clark said the number of people asking for help isn’t quite what he’d like to see.

“Before the pandemic started, we would have 1,000 clients per month entering the Ohio Means Jobs center,” Clark said. “That dropped during the peak of the pandemic to less than 100. Now we’re back to around 300. So we’re still about a third of the visitors we used to see before the pandemic.”

He said some of those who come to the center are there to get help with unemployment benefit claims and not to find work.

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Twitter: @JeffDBarron

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