Job postings flood the internet and help wanted signs are everywhere as companies struggle to fill job openings from a labor force with far fewer people than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
But despite what should be a fertile field of opportunity, some job seekers have trouble getting traction, said Jason Eckert, executive director of career services at the University of Dayton.
“It’s not unusual to hear from job seekers, or in my case from college students, saying, ‘I applied online, I didn’t hear anything, I feel as though no one is really reading or no one is paying attention to me,’” Eckert said. “Why is that? There still are areas where the job growth maybe hasn’t caught up to the demand or the interests of job seekers.”
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
The increased popularity of online job application and resume handling systems known as applicant tracking systems can backfire, he said, because quality candidates might be sorted out of the hiring mix without having a chance to make their case in an interview.
“What that means is, when you apply for a position, especially with a larger organization, you are applying through a web-based tool that tends to attract a large number of applicants,” Eckert said. “Even when jobs are more plentiful, it’s still harder to stand out.”
Interviews with 18 local and national career and human resources experts, companies, business leaders and job seekers found continued concern about the economic impact on companies and individuals as jobs go unfilled. Some said the biggest problem is a shortage of qualified applicants. Others say good candidates are ignored or offered inadequate pay, and many people who need jobsstill struggle with access to affordable child care and fear of catching COVID-19 at work.
“I’ve seen it called the ‘Great Mismatch,’” said Howard J. Klein, professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
He and Eckert emphasized the need for applicants to tailor their online applications to include key words in the job posting. And employers should craft realistic job descriptions that don’t exclude people who might not fit it exactly but would still be a great hire.
“In some cases it’s on the applicant: they’re not using the right terms to generate a match,” Klein said. “In some cases organizations are looking for unicorns, (meaning) a combination of skills and experience that either just don’t exist in the labor market or are extremely rare.”
A common theme among those interviewed is the need to broaden recruiting and give more people a chance to prove themselves in a job.
“This job market is forcing the issue. Talent is so competitive right now,” said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “The employers that have the best success are the ones that are being very broad in understanding about what could be a good fit for the job. And also being really creative in differentiating the job from what else is out there.”
Job openings hit record level
A record 11.1 million job openings were reported nationally in July, declining to 10.4 million as COVID-19 resurged in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Organizations are looking to fill those jobs from a labor force that has 3.2 million fewer people than in February 2020, before the pandemic led to massive layoffs and a recession.
“It’s really a struggle to find people, to retain people,” said Randy Niekamp, vice president of human resources at Crown Equipment Corp., based in New Bremen. “We have looked at our pay and benefits, and we’ve made some adjustments to make it more competitive.”
Credit: Alexis Larsen
Credit: Alexis Larsen
The labor force participation rate, the percentage of civilians 16 and older working or actively looking for work, was 61.6% in September, down 1.7 percentage points from February 2020, according to the BLS.
The cancellation of enhanced federal unemployment benefits in Ohio and about two dozen other states this summer, and the end of the program for everyone else on Sept. 6, did not lead to the flood of applicants businesses had hoped for.
The September jobs report showed employment grew an anemic 194,000 in the U.S.
“Overall, the total economic data suggests there are more openings than workers. Which means that for some companies, shortages are inevitable,” Klein said.
Credit: Alexis Larsen
Credit: Alexis Larsen
Even as employers posted job openings, monthly hiring declined 6.5% in August, and companies laid off or otherwise involuntarily discharged nearly 1.3 million workers nationally, according to the BLS.
Workers also are quitting their jobs, breaking records in August and April for the percentage of employed who voluntarily left jobs. In August nearly 4.3 million workers, 2.9% of employed people, quit jobs, surpassing the 4 million in July and April as part of what some call the Great Resignation.
Eckert said that is part of a broad shift of power to workers, who are able to command higher wages and better jobs than before the pandemic.
There were about 265,000 fewer jobs in Ohio in August than existed prior to the pandemic and “one of the places we’ve seen a lot of jobs destroyed is really at the bottom of the labor market,” said Michael Shields, researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank.
He said waiters and waitresses typically are among the top 10 jobs by employment in Ohio but in 2020 dropped to 13th, according to his analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Job applicant shortages are particularly severe for restaurant, retail and other service industry jobs, Klein said.
“Businesses are struggling to fill those positions because a lot of times those are not the kinds of jobs that people want,” Klein said. “The pay is low, the benefits are few, the work has its challenges, schedules are unpredictable, and the pandemic has led a lot of people to reevaluate their priorities and many have concluded that the type of job they were doing before just isn’t worth it.”
Shanon Morgan, immediate past president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, said many Dayton region restaurants have had to cut their hours because they don’t have enough employees.
The region’s restaurant owners have raised pay by several dollars an hour and offered signing bonuses ranging from $100 to $1,000, she said, but they have limits on what costs they can pass on to diners. The association held a job fair, and some restaurant owners are sharing job applications with each other.
“Everybody’s trying to get as creative as possible, but honestly it doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction,” Morgan said. “A lot of folks are leaving the industry and going to other industries. But other industries are struggling as well.”
A study released by the Harvard Business School says 27 million “hidden” unemployed or underemployed workers exist in the U.S. who could help employers fill key positions if multiple barriers were removed.
They include caregivers, veterans, retirees, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities or mental health challenges, disadvantaged populations, relocating spouses, the formerly incarcerated and those without traditional qualifications.
Barriers that keep companies from considering these “hidden” workers for jobs include lack of access to training, particularly in advanced technologies; automated application systems that exclude them; and companies’ failure to more broadly target hiring efforts to include them, according to the report.
The Harvard study resonates with Jeremy Buchanan, vice president of human resources for AES, formerly DP&L.
The utility company has launched a pilot Powerful Pathways program initially targeting employees without college degrees, but which will ultimately be used in job postings. The pilot group of five AES employees will spend a year in a mentorship program and getting experience in a department they’re interested in, earning badges that make them eligible to be considered for jobs that normally require a degree.
“We hope to tap into this hidden talent and help them grow into roles in AES,” Buchanan said.
AES also is working with community partners to increase the number of women and high school students in apprenticeships, recruit at historically Black colleges, and help veterans translate military resumes to work in the civilian world.
“Companies really need to challenge their traditional sourcing process like we are and take a novel approach to find those hidden workers,” Buchanan said.
Crown is recruiting “in places we’ve never been,” Niekamp said, including county fairs and auto races at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. The forklift manufacturer recently began “Welcome Wednesday,” inviting job seekers to walk in to its New Bremen office without an appointment. He said four of six candidates who came were good prospects: “Small wins, but they are still wins.”
The company has few online application “knock-out” questions that automatically exclude a candidate, he said, and staff review applications to determine in a few days if an applicant is qualified.
Dayton Public Schools, Kettering Health and Premier Health all use applicant tracking systems but said staff review the applications.
“We don’t let the computer system tell us you should see this person or not see that person,” said Dave Harmon, chief of human resources for the school district. “Those decisions are made by people and not by computer.”
The only applications not reviewed at Premier are when the applicant is clearly not qualified, such as a person without a nursing license applying to be a nurse, said Billie Lucente-Baker, vice president of human resources system support services.
Advice for companies
Companies can expand their hiring pool by advertising where they can reach a more diverse workforce, including websites targeting older or more diverse people, said John Dooney, human resources knowledge adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management.
“Where are the eyeballs of the types of workers you need to reach and where you need to be advertising? Whether that is TikTok stories, ads on websites, and ads at events or locations where those people tend to go,” Klein said. “Advertising is all about getting the attention of who you are trying to reach, and once you have their attention: What is your message?”
That message needs to be a compelling pitch that answers “the explicit question of the job seeker, which is, ‘why should I come work for you?’” he said.
The experts said companies must consider whether a job requires a degree, or if experience and additional on-the-job training will suffice.
“Certain people who probably are qualified may not apply because they see this wall of required credentials and so they think ‘that’s not me, I can’t do it,’” Eckert said.
Companies also need to put less emphasis on an applicant’s grade-point average, he said, and more on their communication skills, passion for the industry and resume.
The experts agreed that companies willing to pay for training are going to have an advantage over those that won’t, particularly because technology can change a job dramatically in a short time.
“Right now we are seeing employers willing to train folks at any skill level,” said Garth McLean, Montgomery County interim director of workforce development.
Employers also should have an avenue for applicants to talk to someone at the company, even if resumes are handled using applicant tracking systems, said Christine Yancey, coordinator of community engagement at Sinclair Community College.
And, she said, applicants shouldn’t be afraid to make that call after applying.
“It shows the job seeker is really enthusiastic about the position itself and they have the professionalism and the moxie to go out there and get what they want and not be complacent about it,” Yancey said.
Advice for job seekers
For job applicants the No. 1 tip is to network in-person and online. Go to in-person and virtual job fairs and industry networking events, and find someone who works at a company who will share your resume with human resources.
Eckert suggested reading local newspapers to find out about companies that are expanding or opening in the area and apply there as soon as possible.
Credit: Alexis Larsen
Credit: Alexis Larsen
Montgomery County’s Job Center provides free career services to job seekers, helping write resumes and find jobs, and has free skills training for in-demand jobs. Colleges also offer career services to students and graduates.
Resumes should be posted on LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Applicants can find job openings on the state’s OhioMeansJobs website and job listings websites like Indeed.com. Many companies have websites that allow the job seeker to set up an alert when new jobs are posted.
“Our No. 1 source of candidates is our career site,” Lucente-Baker said.
Research each company, tailor each application to that job and don’t sell yourself short, Yancey said.
“It is not enough to tell the employer what you did, but you have to tell them tell them how well you did it,” she said. “You are putting it into perspective for employers that you made impacts and contributions that will resonate with that employer.”
Companies want an explanation about employment gaps, a huge issue after massive jobs losses during the pandemic.
“(Applicants should) show how they’ve kept busy. How have they stayed engaged in their profession, whether it was networking, volunteering, mentoring, training, learning?” said Sam Lickert, manager of talent acquisition at strategic HR Inc. in Cincinnati. “How have they stayed current on trends and advancements?”
And, said the experts, the old school advice on appearance and demeanor still apply.
“It still comes down to showing up for the interview on time, being prepared for the interview, researching the company you are interviewing with and looking and acting professional,” Niekamp said.
Montgomery County Job Training and Recruiting Program
Phone: (937) 225-5627
Address: The Job Center, 1111 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd. Dayton
Services: Job training grants up to $15,000 for in-demand careers; Recruiting services for local companies and job seekers
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