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Crawford County Has More Available Jobs Than Potential Workers

The Pennsylvania county has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels for job availability despite the unemployment rate hitting record lows. Nationally there are 11 million open jobs but only 5.7 million unemployed workers.

a lawn sign that reads "now hiring! Apply inside"
(TNS) — As the economy continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a huge struggle confronts not only Crawford County, but the nation — workers.

Locally, statewide and across America there's a worker shortage crisis — there are too many open jobs without people to fill them.

Unemployment rates are lower or even at record lows as job openings remain with businesses of all types looking for employees.

"It depends on how you define recovery," said Lauren Riegel, a labor analyst with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

For December 2022, Crawford County's initial unemployment rate for the month was 4.4 percent with 30,000 non-farm jobs based in the county.

Before the pandemic the lowest unemployment rate in the county was 4.4 percent in November 2018.

"The total number of jobs has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, but the unemployment rate is at or near record lows," Riegel said. "The reason is we have a tighter labor force than what it was prior to the pandemic. People left the labor force."

"Prior to the pandemic, total non-farm jobs averaged 31,200 in 2019," Riegel said. "The 2022 average was 29,600, so jobs have still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, but have continued to improve."

The jobs situation "still is a looker's market as there are more positions available than people looking," said Tony Boca, a regional sales manager with Miller Brothers Staffing's Meadville office.

A new analysis of jobs data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bears out Boca's comments that there is a worker shortage.

The Chamber's analysis found the nation has 11 million open jobs, but there's only 5.7 million unemployed workers in the U.S.

The majority of states, including Pennsylvania, have more job openings today than before the pandemic, while labor force participation remains below pre-pandemic levels, the Chamber reports.

For December 2022, the national labor force participation rate was 62.4 percent, or 1 percentage point below the pre-pandemic level of 63.4 percent in February 2020. It's a difference of about 2.8 million fewer workers.

The analysis found Pennsylvania's labor force participation rate is 61.7 percent. Other statistics analyzed in the report found only 75 unemployed workers were available for every 100 open jobs.

Since the pandemic, there have been major shifts among worker wants for a job, Boca said.

"There have been pay increases, but workers are looking at company culture more," Boca said. "They want remote work, if possible. They're looking for more time off and a chance to work from home."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also surveyed unemployed workers who lost jobs during the pandemic on what is keeping them from returning to work.

It found 27 percent said they needed to be home and care for children or other family members while 28 percent said they have been ill and their health had taken priority over looking for work.

Other factors found in the survey were some are still concerned about COVID-19 at work, pay is too low, or want new skills and education before re-entering the job market.

The pandemic has brought change to local employers who not only need to find workers, but keep them.

"After the pandemic hit, there's really been an increase in value of the quality of life," Elisabeth Smith, president of Acutec Aerospace Inc., a more than 400-employee company which makes a variety of components for the aerospace and aircraft industries.

"We adjusted our work week so 40 hours is standard, rather than 47 1/2 hours and the overtime isn't mandatory," Smith said. "We know childcare is an issue — especially with kids under preschool age.

"We know young adults are more transient in their lives so that's why we have an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) that's an incentive to have people stay as they'll have an ownership stake," Smith said. "We're also actively promoting people from within."

Bethesda Lutheran Services, which provides mental and behavioral health services, has increased its wages and benefits. The social service agency's goals for 2023 through 2025 including increasing both employee retention and recruitment, George Trauner, Bethesda's chief executive officer, said.

"To be competitive with others, you have to offer a bonus," Trauner said, adding the size of the bonus depends on the job classification. "We've added five federal holidays as paid holidays to meet the needs of staff.

Rick York, vice president of human resources at Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community, said "It's always a challenge when you have more open jobs than people."

Wesbury has more than 340 workers with openings still in various departments at the senior residential and long-term care campus. It's tried various means to recruit workers including social media, but the biggest change Wesbury did was establish a full-time recruiter in 2022.

"We went to our staff and asked them what keeps them here," said Melissa Porter, Wesbury's vice president of sales and marketing. Staffers from frontline health care workers to maintenance to dietary were asked and all had a common thread in their answers, Porter said.

"They said they like to make a difference in the life of another person and it's the connections they make," she said.

Wesbury's biggest source of recruits comes from employee referrals, according to York.

"Working in long-term health care takes a unique individual," he said. "We can train them, but we're looking for good referrals."

Channellock Inc., the pliers and hand tools maker, is looking for workers to add to its more than 350-employee roster.

It's used a variety of means, including a sign-on bonus and raised starting wages.

"We've also given more time off, but as employees use it that can put us back into the same situation," Jon DeArment, Channellock's president and chief operating officer, said. "It's a fine line as it drives up costs, but there's a current need for workers."

"It seems people aren't looking for jobs," said Mark Sippy, president of Highpoint Tool and Machine of Saegertown, a 37-employee business. "I could probably hire three to five people right now. I could put in more (tooling) machines, but I can't do it until I have people."

Sippy, DeArment and Smith all are looking for workers and are willing to train them.

"We're looking for a good work ethic," DeArment said. "We're looking for dependability. Absenteeism can be an issue."

"We're looking for people who fit in with our core values," Smith said. "We even have our own in-house machining classes."

Smaller manufacturing firms, too, can offer training through the National Tooling and Machining Association, Sippy said.

"It's having the desire to learn and a good attitude," Sippy said. "We can teach them the skills."

Starn Tool & Manufacturing Co. of Meadville, a more than 70-employee firm, has worked the last few years to evolve toward a younger firm by actively recruiting new people.

The company had 18 skilled employees retire within the last 24 months, according to Bill Starn, the firm's president.

"It's not like we didn't see the silver tsunami coming," Greg Wasko, the firm's vice president, said of the retirements of those of the Baby Boom generation. "We're young by choice and began to move actively in that direction a few years ago."

In doing so, it's lowered the average age of its workforce from about 51 to 35, Wasko said.

"We've got a couple of people who've graduated from the NTMA apprentice program and we've got about eight others in it at various stages," he said. "They're bright kids looking for a chance who want to stay in the area."

(c)2023 The Meadville Tribune (Meadville, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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