Employers see workers returning to labor force, but still face challenges finding them

·5 min read

Oct. 13—Whether more people started seeking jobs when extra federal unemployment benefits ended Sept. 4, or they exhausted their state jobless benefits or they feel safer getting back to work because more people are getting the covid vaccine, staffing agencies and employers in the region say they are seeing more people who want a job.

"We have seen an increase over 50% of people seeking positions over the past month," said Paula Schmitt, owner of Express Employment Professionals, a Penn Township staffing agency for light industrial, skilled labor and office positions.

"I think it started after the federal benefits ended," Schmitt said, referring to the extra $300 in weekly benefits that ended Sept. 4. Unemployment compensation for freelance and gig workers also ended then.

At Nesco Resource's staffing office in Hempfield, market manager Bryan Reiter said they are seeing more job seekers but not as many as he might expect. It could be, Reiter said, that it may take a few months for more workers to return to the labor force.

At Diehl Automotive Group, collision center director Matthew Whittenberg said jobless workers aren't rushing back to work.

"I think the government made it too easy to stay home," Whittenberg said recently at a job fair at Rosedale Technical College in Kennedy Township, Allegheny County. "I think it will be 12 to 24 months" before it returns to pre-pandemic levels, he added.

The extra federal unemployment benefits not only impacted some workers' desire to return to jobs, but the pandemic changed the lifestyles of families when one wage earner had to remain home to take care of a child.

"I think people are learning to live on a single income rather than a dual income," Whittenberg said.

At OnCall Medical Staffing Inc. in Tarentum, operations director Marvin Taliaferro said his office has seen a lot of employees who got hired through the staffing agencies for nursing home and skilled care home jobs are slowly returning to employment after leaving during the pandemic.

"There's been an uptick in workers coming back," Taliaferro said.

And the jobs the registered nurses, licensed practiced nurses and certified nursing assistants are coming back to are paying more than in the pre-pandemic days, Taliaferro said. "That is an incentive for people coming back to work."

Wages can range from $18 an hour for CNAs to $45 an hour for registered nurses, he said.

With so many companies seeking workers, PGT Trucking Inc. — an interstate trucking firm based in Hopewell with terminals in Indiana County's Burrell Township and Midland — has increased its wages to remain competitive, said Dan Gaebel, a PGT management department trainer who was looking for technicians at the Rosedale Technical College job fair.

Express Employment is not only seeing more interest from people who want to get off the unemployment rolls, but it also is experiencing a resurgence in clients who want to hire workers.

Struggle to fill openings

While, anecdotally, staffing agencies are seeing more people looking for work, the help wanted signs at businesses throughout the region remain plentiful, indicating people are not taking many jobs that are there for the taking.

The seven-county Pittsburgh region has 77,000 unemployed workers — with about 37,000 of those in Allegheny County and 11,000 in Westmoreland, according to state figures from August.

The challenge is to convince some of them to start earning a paycheck again.

Too many times during the covid pandemic, would-be workers would schedule an interview and never appear, said Reiter, whose offices work with clients in light industry and clerical work.

"In one case, everything was set to go for a worker to take a job, but he never showed up for work. They ghost us," never even contacting them, said Emily Mulheren, a Nesco recruiter.

Jill Seder, human resources generalist for Quality Machined Products & Manufacturing Inc., a machine shop in New Kensington, said it has happened to her company as well.

"I don't know how many people 'no-show' us for interviews," Seder said.

When Nesco does drug testing on candidates as part of the extensive background check, Mulheren says some candidates find they are no longer interested in the job, without ever indicating whether they could pass a drug test.

Overcoming shortage

The problem for staffing agencies and employers seeking workers on their own, however, is they are looking to fill vacancies when the labor force — those working or looking for work — is shrinking in the Pittsburgh region. There were 1.17 million people in the labor force in August, but that was 7,200 fewer people than in July and 42,000 less than August 2019, according to the state's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

"We've been seeing the shortage of workers for a while," Gaebel said. The company is seeking to hire 80 to 90 people to fill jobs as technicians and drivers, but that has been a challenge, Gaebel said.

To make jobs more appealing, Nesco Resources' Reiter said they are seeing more companies offering flexible working hours.

Whatever employers are offering — flexible hours, increased wages and benefits — was not sufficient enough to attract a large contingent of the thousands of unemployed workers in the county to a job fair Tuesday outside the Pennsylvania CareerLink offices at the Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood.

About 75 people showed up to gather information from some of the 40 employers present. That was far less than the more than 200 who came in search of jobs in August.

"With the (extra federal) benefits ending, I thought we would have more people," said Janice Albright, site administrator for the PA CareerLink office.

For those whose skills don't exactly fit a certain job, "most of the employers are willing to train them," Albright added.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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