Experts: It’s not an employer’s job market anymore

Even though Home Depot’s busy season doesn’t usually start until springtime, the home improvement retailer has already started hiring in December to fill job openings at its Rapid Deployment Center in Monroe, said Scott Brown, the center’s staffing specialist.

Why has hiring started earlier?

“It’s getting a little tougher to find people. The job market is improving,” Brown said.

According to economic experts and local government agencies that provide job matching services, unemployment has fallen enough that the job market no longer favors the employer.

Unemployment rates in Ohio, Greater Cincinnati and Greater Dayton are now sitting at the lowest levels since 2001.

“I think the tide is now turning to job seekers,” said George Mokrzan, director of economics for Columbus-based Huntington Bancshares Inc. “I think these unemployment rates have dropped to such a low level, businesses are going to start having a hard time finding the qualified workers that they need.”

“Consumers are going to feel better in terms of job opportunities. There’s going to be some upward pressure in wages,” he said.

Ohio’s unemployment rate shrank from 5.2 percent a year ago to 4.5 percent in November, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. There are fewer people in search of a job and employment is up, but the market isn’t fully healed; fewer Ohioans are also participating in the job market year-over-year, which could be due to retirements, students, changing populations and job seekers who’ve given up finding work.

Last month, about 5.7 million residents statewide were workers or job hunters, down from 5.73 million the year before, according to state government statistics.

Between the start of the Great Recession in December 2007 and the most recent estimates available for November, the public and private sectors have added 17,400 jobs to their payrolls in Ohio, according to the state.

Employers have “gotten used to being able to pick and choose in a way they haven’t been able to before,” said Richard Stock, director of the Business Research Group for University of Dayton. “So what’s challenging for companies is pretty exciting for the ordinary working person.”

The Home Depot distribution center, opened in 2009 near the Ohio 63 and Interstate 75 intersection, supplies stock for over 100 stores in a multi-state region, Brown said. Plans are to hire about 90 entry-level general warehouse associates in permanent positions from now through late April, he said.

Recently, starting pay was raised to $13 an hour to attract better qualified job candidates. After six months, employees automatically get a raise to $14 an hour, he said.

“It was basically market factors. As the economy’s improving and the pool of workers is getting smaller, we’re competing for a lot of the same people other companies are competing for,” he said about why the company increased pay.

Wages and salaries across the U.S. grew an estimated 2.1 percent from September 2014 to September 2015, the most recent information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth is still weak compared to when wages were rising at about 3.3 percent a year at the end of 2007.

“I think there will still be very little pressure on wage growth,” Stock said. “I think where you’re going to experience some pressure on wage growth is down in that $12 to $16 an hour wage.”

“They’ve gotten used to having a very high quality worker for $13 an hour.”

OhioMeansJobs-Butler County is now holding more job fairs for employers after business hours on nights and weekends because of the changing labor pool, said Melissa O’Brien, business services liaison for the government-run job center. Those hours better fit the schedule of underemployed workers that might be working part-time or in lower-paying jobs and are seeking move-up opportunities, O’Brien said.

“We’ve just seen a great change in our hiring events,” she said. “Our numbers have gotten lower during normal business hours.”

But on a recent Saturday morning, over 40 people showed up at the job center to apply for production operator jobs available at the Fairfield Twp. digital printing business Innovative Labeling Solutions, she said.

“When people need a job, they took the job to help them get through the time. Now they’re in a position to say I’ve got skills… I want to better myself,” she said.

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