Millions Are Out Of A Job. Yet Some Employers Wonder: Why Can’t I Find Workers?
Source: NPR Morning Edition
By Kat Lonsdorf
At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, businessman Bill Martin [who runs a medical plastics company] has a head-scratching problem: He’s got plenty of jobs but few people willing to take them. “I keep hearing about all the unemployed people,” Martin says. “I certainly can’t find any of those folks.”
His difficulties are putting a spotlight on a peculiar problem in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. Julia Pollak, a labor economist at employment recruitment site ZipRecruiter, says Martin is not alone in struggling to find workers. Most job seekers, she says, are looking for remote work. The problem is that those are not the jobs available right now.
“There’s this huge gap between the kinds of conditions under which people are prepared to work and the kinds of conditions that they actually find in the jobs that are available,” Pollak says. That is leading to a mismatch in filling jobs, and it’s contributing to the painful, slow recovery in jobs.
ZipRecruiter claims only 1 in 10 posted jobs provide the option of remote work — so that’s why you’re unemployed. It’s because you want only remote work. I dunno, maybe that’s true, and I don’t blame you if it is. But that’s why employers like Martin are scratching their heads. So the net is, there are loads of jobs going begging today.
What’s your take? Is this why you’re unemployed? Would COVID pay (like combat pay) change your mind? Better protection against infection? On-site testing? Or is there something else that’s keeping you unemployed?
The company featured in the article is a plastics manufacturer. I’d assume he’s looking primarily for production workers like injection mold press operators. The article presupposes many workers are looking for remote work. In a manufacturing environment, as in the case of this plastic molder, it requires warm bodies there on-site running the equipment. Those looking for remote work are most likely more white collar workers.
I see this dilemma in my area, but there’s sometimes reasons for this like employers are too picky, offer low wages, or have a bad reputation. Even when some employers are reputable, they still face problems finding workers who want to work in manufacturing environments. No wonder, manufacturing has been exported, beat up, and marginalized for a long time in America.
Production work requires supervisors, specialists to help solve problems and other issues. There is more to Mr. Martin’s problems than Covid-19 and fear.
A lot of people, “front line workers”, happily worked in various places all through this epidemic. Most of them were fine.
When “hero” pay was introduced some companies could manage it, others laid off or fired workers.
A quick check of MA Industries on Indeed and Glassdoor seems to show some discontent in the work force. Lots of complaints about “schedule changes”. I work in manufacturing in a dual blue and white collar position. One has to be flexible to accommodate customer needs in order to maintain a competitive edge.
The old rule is to be fast, cheap or good – pick any two. I’ll take fast over cheap.
People claim that the “pay is good” at MA Industries. Probably competitive in the Peachtree Ga area.
I do not care one way or the other about remote versus local work. To me remote work has become an excuse to delay responses. I am seeing longer lunch hours. People tend to do “their job” and refuse to respond if they can be more of service.
I like doing office work at home. I like managing the technical things that I do on site.
@Gene: I agree with you — there’s more to the story of Martin’s problems. Other things being equal, in general I find that when a company is having a hard time filling critical jobs, one thing almost always fixes that: Higher pay.
It doesn’t take a ZipRecruiter economist to figure that one out.
My company just instituted mandatory overtime through August – everyone in the engineering department will be working at least 52 hours per week. (Paid overtime)
@Kevin: How do you (and others at your company) feel about that? Glad to get the OT, or unhappy about the extra hours?
@Nick: We were all pretty upset. What makes it worse is that many of us weren’t busy for the past few weeks. Instead of commanding, I wish they would have said, “Houston, we have a problem,” and then we engineers could provide solutions. I would like to talk to management about this, but my company is very traditional and individual contributors are quickly put in their place. That said, the pay is better than I have ever earned, and we get paid for the overtime even though we are exempt. I also have a good manager, but he is very stressed out in his role.
@Kevin: “Don’t deploy assholes to issue commands. Talk with your employees. Act like they’re actually on your team.”
I could charge them a boatload for that advice. Or they could get it from you for free. I’m sorry your company isn’t thinking. My wish for you is that this period passes quickly.
Nick, with the Royals’ bickering and Donald Trump’s tantrums being kicked off the front page of mainstream media, some people desperate for entertaining reading material, while mostly confined to their homes for over a year with no work, may be falling for the trash that internet trolls that masquerade as journalists have been publishing.
Ignoring the fact that a writer (Kat Lonsdorf, NPR) who spins a false claim into a literary piece really has no idea what they’re doing, the writer knew that his main source was in the manufacturing business, yet the writer went ahead and tried to connect the poor job posting responses with a bizarre assumption that (factory workers) would prefer to work from home.
Going to a phony “expert” source (Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter) in the employment advertising business to speak about something that is entirely outside their field of expertise (what most job-seekers are looking for), NPR definitely hasn’t had their sharpest tools in the shed working in editorial lately.
Anyone with common sense is not going to fall for this nonsense. The writer’s obsession with job-seekers who want to take it easy and work from home obviously doesn’t fit with their main source’s line of work.
The OM business is in a world of its own, and home-working is rarely a part of it. But this clueless writer missed an opportunity to write about a REAL labor shortage in that business that has nothing to do with home-working, and has been with us a few years before the pandemic.
By interesting coincidence, I was discussing this same issue with a friend who works in the OM business (manufacturing field service and consulting). I also discussed it with my OM professor who strongly agreed.
Experienced people in manufacturing have been retiring, and there aren’t a lot of younger people entering the business and wanting to do manual labor or repairs while getting dirty. The millennials and Gen-Z’s aren’t looking for home work, they just don’t want to work very hard for their money. There’s money to be made, but OM is not attracting people with a passion to fill those jobs. Maybe if NPR was hiring real journalists with a passion to publish the truth about relevant employment issues impacting the US economy, we might be reading some quality reporting that may change some opinions and inspire people to find a solution.
Welcome to Biden’s America
For manufacturing, what I want to know is it because these folks are paying less than they were pre-pandemic or are paying roughly what UI is currently paying? When you pay the minimum, of course you are going to have a tough time finding people.
I’m able to WFH and I’ll probably be one of the last people to go back into the office at my employer. I don’t care where I’m working one way or the other. But, WFH has figured into my calculus when I’ve been approached for jobs recently. For example, if I work in a rough 15-20 minute radius from my house, fuel costs are roughly $2500/year and that’s post tax savings. If I’m WFH for the foreseeable future an employer may have to consider that if they want me onsite 100%.
Would someone please spell out the alphabet soup of abbreviations? WFH, OM, UI – I don’t know what these are. I would like to understand the comments.
Sorry. “OM” is Operations Management. It’s everything having to do with designing, producing and delivering goods and services in today’s world.
WFH – Work From Home
UI – Unemployment
In view of the comments, ever consider that “writer (Kat Lonsdorf, NPR)” and “expert” source (Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter) are collaborating to PUBLICLY SHAME job seekers who prefer to ‘Work from Home’/Remote Work? Or preparing their audience to accept any job less than the propagated $15 per hour minimum wage?
Lifestyle blogs have hooked every ‘escape fantasy’ of the partially or fully unemployed emotions on Remote Work from the Carribean to Bali to Malta along with enticing beach scenes and country visa allowances. On the heels of Global Recession, is this the propaganda of every Department of Tourism Board?
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the manufacturers, an example: wine bottles, recycled plastics — hire migrant workers and California borne adult children of migrant workers, who are educated and bilingual. Most of these manufacturing businesses have been the center of the Covid-19 outbreak, mandated to temporarily close and enforced the CDC rules. Yet employees return to work, in spite of compromised health.
A Gentle Remider for everyone. In contrast to other countries, we are fortunate to earn an income flow model here in the USA., in spite of the false promises . Be your own income flow advocate. Let’s keep following Nick!
Whenever I hear someone claim “we can’t find any workers”, I know it comes down to one of a few real reasons.
1) As pointed out above, they are not paying market wages. Raise your wages high enough, and you will not have a problem finding people. Don’t complain about how it’s too high; that’s simply the market at work.
2) As a corollary to #1, they are asking for 15 years experience, a bachelor’s degree, and a laundry list of skills for a $17/hr position that requires none of those. They want purple squirrels for peanut wages.
3) The place is managed so poorly that people know it’s not worth it to work there.
4) As a corollary to #1, they refuse to invest in any type of training or education that would enable them to offer lower wages for less experienced people. They want people willing to do the exact same job at the same (or lower) wages from the previous job with pre-existing skills/training/education paid for by someone else.
“Experienced people in manufacturing have been retiring, and there aren’t a lot of younger people entering the business and wanting to do manual labor or repairs while getting dirty”. I see this everyday in my day job dealing with industrial accounts. I just spoke to such an account that roll forms steel siding and roof decking. The Operations Manager’s maintenance guy of 40 years announced he’s hanging it up in October of 2022. The guy can cobble up old roll forming mills and keep production running, do wiring, do HVAC, do plumbing, do carpentry, weld, turn a wrench, yada…yada. The Operations Manager is searching for a replacement to train, but is getting nowhere. They’ve even tried internal training, but to no avail. The millennials and Gen Z folks you speak of have been indoctrinated that skilled trades are for knuckle walkers. Others have “work avoidance” degrees with no marketability.
“OM is not attracting people with a passion to fill those jobs”. Well, no they aren’t, and there in lies part of the problem. Managers need to be leaders, are the face of the company, and they set the cultural tone. But when they quickly show a face as ugly as Medusa, exhibit a cowboy culture, and are disengaged and not held accountable, no wonder they’re “black balled”.
Case in point, I just had a discreet phone interview today with one of my customers for a Sales Engineer position. I was interviewed by two obvious (and incidentally civil) millennial managers. When it came time for me to ask questions I pressed them fairly hard about their corporate culture, and especially what the expectations are for the job (at 90 days, 6 months, and a year). That seemed to annoy them, and they countered with this weird diatribe about “just putting one’s nose to the grindstone and doing the job”, and they kept using words like “organic” and “hybrid” (huh?) to describe their culture and expectations, and not answer my question. We politely ended the call after 30 minutes, and this is one time I’d welcome being ghosted.
I think there’s more to the story than Martin is telling. When/if people come into his business in response to his “help wanted” notice posted in the window, does he take a little time to talk to them or does he tell him to go online and apply? Is he willing to train someone who doesn’t have every single one of the skills he wants and give them some time to learn and get up to speed? And I’ll second everyone else here who mentioned pay: I’ve noticed that when employers around here complain that they can’t find workers, they’re the ones who aren’t paying enough. Increase salary/wages, offer benefits, TALK to those who come in instead of pushing them to a website where a computer will screen them out for not perfectly matching keywords, and be willing to hire those who don’t have 100% of the skills employers want, and I bet employers will find plenty of people to hire.
And I’ll add “if employers would stop being so overly PICKY”. With the low wages and toxic cultures, the online application shenanigans you refer to, it comes as no big surprise that said employers can’t find workers. But the pickiness. Reminds me of the old story of the young woman who went out to the corn field to pick an ear of corn for her dinner. She saw a nice ear of corn, but decided she could do better, so she moved on to the next ear of corn. She thought she could still do better, so she continued moving on until she came to the end of the cornfield, and all there was left, was a small rotted and worm eaten ear of corn remaining.
One of the Manufacturing employers in my area has started advertising on billboards for the first time ever. They’ve never had to advertise before because their pay is the highest (by a good margin) of any of the manufacturers in town. This tells me that they must be having trouble finding workers, and as I said their pay is great and opportunities for advancement are high.
I think there is an actual shortage of people willing to step up and do these job. I think there’s a bit coming from the COVID fear of working near others, and I think a bit is millennial and Gen Z workers not wanting “menial” jobs.
These are real good jobs, pay, training, advancement are all stellar, and they’re having to advertise for the first time ever.
There is more to this than “the pay is bad”.
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