The latest employment news — and what it might mean with the ongoing pressures for finding workers — reinforces something that James Carchidi says hasn’t been new for a long time.
“Now is the new normal,” said Carchidi, who runs JFC Staffing Companies, which has offices throughout Central Pennsylvania.
The unemployment rates for the nation and the state have been hovering around what is considered full employment — where those who want a job should be able to find one — for years now. On the national level, the unemployment rate reported at the end of October was 3.6 percent. In Pennsylvania, the jobless rate has been slightly higher, or about 4 percent, in recent years.
That tight labor market means the issues for companies trying to find talent are the same, said Carchidi and others involved in the staffing industry — employers no longer hold a lot of the power.
“It’s turned upside down,” Carchidi said. “Talent has the upper hand.”
The old days of placing advertisements and expecting to get the best workers are long over as well, Carchidi said. He and others advise companies to do what they can to retain talent, but Carchidi would add that they need to use modern tools to make their workplaces look special or exciting.
Companies should use social media to promote their brand and image because modern-day workers will seek out such media to get a feel for whether they would like working at a particular company. Carchidi goes so far as to suggest that workers should be encouraged to use their own, private platforms to talk about their jobs and workplaces.
“Let them play in it,” he said about the various platforms. “The stories of employees have a lot of weight.”
That openness could make some companies nervous, he said, because managers might not always like the comments. But insights coming directly from workers will sound much more genuine than pre-screened photos or comments posted on a company’s official social media platforms.
“I know that is real scary for some people,” he said, “but that is the way to do it. When it is done right, it is so much more impactful.”
If issues do arise about inappropriate or questionable comments, Carchidi suggests talking to an employee one-on-one to discuss the concerns with the goal of improving the workplace. That goes much farther than writing a broad-sweeping memo about do’s and don’ts of social media, he said.
In addition, companies cannot ignore independent platforms, such as Glassdoor, that rate their workplaces through postings by current or former employees.
“Negative ratings can be more powerful than positive ones,” Carchidi said.
But how you react becomes more important that the actual negative comment. Avoid sounding defensive or arguing with the person doing the posting, he suggested.
As far as the official sites, Carchidi said, companies should work to make sure the content is honest and doesn’t feel fake.
“You can’t make it look canned,” he said.
A tight labor market
He and others said companies also need to be sure they are offering a great place to work, generally. Staffing agencies network with employers to find good fits, whether temporary assignments for a specific project that might last months, or a few years, or a temporary assignment to fill a gap.
Some agencies also will place people in companies where the workers become a part of that organization, with the agencies receiving a fee for the recruiting help. Regardless, everyone is swimming against the same strong economic currents.
“The demand is higher and the supply is less,” said Deborah Abel, president of Abel Personnel, which has offices in the Harrisburg area and Maryland. “The number of people looking for a job is much, much lower, since so many people are employed.”
In the past, Abel said, her agency might like to see 10 people to find six or seven who would be placeable. That would include people with the skills, work ethic and experience to handle a number of positions. Today, perhaps two out of 10 might fit the profile needed to be placed.
Technology has helped businesses attract a flood of resumes and inquiries, but that often means that job seekers simply are sending out notices for any job, whether they are qualified or a good fit, she said. That wastes time for human-resources personnel.
A staffing company can cut through the clutter by screening workers. And they can help job seekers by ensuring they are focusing their search on jobs that are attainable.
“We can look at the whole person,” Abel said. “We can look at them for the range of jobs that they have potential.”
Susan Graham’s company, Susan Graham Consulting based in Camp Hill, specializes in placing people with backgrounds and skills in IT. Even during the Great Recession, when unemployment soared, people with technology skills remained in demand, especially if they kept up their skills or acquired new credentials, she said.
Today, competition is that much more intense for high-quality, experienced IT workers, she said.
Keep them satisfied
Companies that don’t invest in good pay and benefits will find it difficult to attract workers. In fact, her company will be increasing its benefits package next year, Graham said.
The worker shortages aren’t likely to end any time soon, the experts agreed. Abel noted that a teacher shortage has become so acute that there is a great demand for substitute teachers, which includes an increasing use of subs who do not have official teaching credentials.
Several observers noted that the best policies for dealing with worker shortages start with how you care for those hired long ago.
“The best thing an employer can do is keep people satisfied,” Abel said. That includes competitive salaries and benefits. “It’s also showing employees appreciation, showing them respect.”