Hiring remains difficult for some Auburn companies

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A new challenge for some employers has emerged in 2021 as more people choose to leave their jobs, a dramatic change from the workplace issues seen in 2020, when many people found themselves involuntarily unemployed .

In May, Auburn had an unemployment rate of around 2.4%, one point below the state’s unemployment rate and more than three points below the national average, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. . So it would appear that the national reports on a myriad of vacancies are not indicative of a local problem, but the experience of several Auburn business owners, always looking for workers to fill their positions, goes to against this notion.

Chad Harrison, director of Niffer’s Place in Auburn, said his company was struggling to recruit new employees and new candidates. He recalls this trend that started at the start of the pandemic.

“A lot of the employees who left here during this time were on unemployment benefits and chose not to come back because they were making so much money out of it,” Harrison said.

He said the hiring problems had since “snowballed from there.” Now not only is Niffer facing hiring shortages, Harrison said everyone he talks to seems to be experiencing similar issues.

To attract more employees, Niffer’s has implemented multiple incentives for new workers.

“We’re actually starting people at a higher rate, which affects our labor costs a lot,” Harrison said. “We are offering more food packages to our employees; while you used to have a discount, now it’s free food every time you work, basically. We’re basically offering almost double the pay on Sunday evenings, which is a little odd, but we have to do it. “

Lifesaver’s Mission Thrift is also looking for workers.

“We are accepting applications as soon as possible,” said Eve MacDougall, store manager. “We’re looking for part-time, full-time, whatever they want. … But we really need a very expendable person.

MacDougall attributed the shortage of workers at his store to the effects of the pandemic and summer absences with students. Today, Mission Thrift starts its employees at $ 8 an hour with flexible hours for students enrolled at the University.

After completing 90 days of work, the manager increases the salary. MacDougall said it’s about making sure their employees enjoy the job and are willing to stay.

Alan Seals, professor and labor economist at Auburn University who studies employment, weighed in on current hiring shortages in the United States.

The answer to why some jobs go unfilled is complex, Seals said. There are jobs the pandemic has wiped out of the workforce, accelerating “pre-COVID trends toward more automation,” which Seals says makes middle managers the most vulnerable.

“This reallocation of the workforce is probably one of the culprits in the employment puzzles we see in the news – a record number of job postings and no one to fill the positions, although the increase in unemployment benefits is undoubtedly a factor as well, ”he said. .

If you look at the US job market in general, the country has lost nearly 8 million jobs since the start of the pandemic. Seals said it is difficult to say when the country will return to normal employment levels before the pandemic.

“The politics around all of these issues are also complex and difficult to predict,” Seals said. “In short, there is enormous economic uncertainty and anyone who says they understand that is lying.”

The Auburn Campus Recreation Center also struggled to recruit, at least in part due to marketing issues as more students left town and fewer in-person events took place. during the pandemic.

With typically over 300 new employees each semester, the Rec often hires a semester in advance. Summer and fall applications are accepted at the RECxpo job fair in March, and spring applications are accepted in October.

In the 2020-21 academic year, with little to no in-person events, Rec was forced to rely on social media, word of mouth, signage at their facilities, and posts from information on their website to recruit new workers.

“It has been difficult,” said Leanne Greene, deputy director of marketing. “Everything we do at Campus Recreation is based on the skills and talents of our student employees. “

Greene also noted that COVID has created an opportunity for off-campus and even out-of-state learning with Auburn students, significantly depleting Rec’s candidate pool.

“Many of our student employees had already found other jobs working for companies that remained open during the pandemic (Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Instacart, etc.),” Greene said. “Even those who might have wanted to come back could not be sure in March that we would be operating at full capacity again by the fall.”

While some companies have opted for monetary incentives to attract more applicants, Nicholas Head of Auburn Outdoors said he believes the transferable skills students get from working at Rec are the incentives. Head said what he hears most often from employed students is how they wished they had been made aware of the opportunities earlier. Head calls their work “bridge” jobs, leading to future employment in fields they already love.

It is not yet clear how some local businesses will or will not attract workers, and so are the effects of the pandemic on the labor market and the economy in general.

“We probably won’t have a decent understanding of the impact of the pandemic in the years to come,” Seals said. “Economists are still studying the Great Depression. … The readjustment process will take a little time.


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