Marion County business owners must adapt their hiring practices to attract job candidates in an ever-changing workforce that has been evolving for a decade, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, experts say.
Households that once featured two working adults have now figured out how to survive with one person working – or with both working, but one of them doing so from home. Workers are now looking for jobs that offer good benefits, better pay and flexibility.
“Some people want that flexibility to work from home,” said Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP). The length of time varies, with some people wishing to work from home one day per week, three days per week, or even all week.
Help wanted: Thousands of jobs need filling in next three years
Rusty Skinner, CEO of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, said people lost jobs when the pandemic hit in spring 2020. At first laid-off employees searched for a way to make ends meet. Eventually, families figured out “how to make it with only one parent working,” Skinner said.
In the end, workers are looking for different things and business owners must re-examine how their companies operate.
The number of new jobs, and number of people working, have remained steady
When 2017 workforce numbers are compared to those in 2022, it is clear that Marion is keeping pace. Skinner said 10,000 more jobs have been created in five years and 10,000 more people started working during that same period.
“I think some people are just not working for a variety of reasons,” Skinner said. “I think that is OK.”
Still, local officials see gaps. More than half of Florida residents ages 18-64 are not in the workforce. In Marion, only 45% of people in that age range are working. Nationwide, the workforce participation rate for this age cohort is 61%.
Local officials are conducting a study to determine the reasons some working age adults are not working. Early retirement and affordable child care may be two reasons.
“You have people who are not looking for a job they once had, but looking at other professions,” Skinner said. He said people are being more patient in finding a position that better fits their family’s dynamic.
The hospitality industry is a good example. Many employees have said: ” ‘I don’t want to get back into that profession,’ ” Skinner noted.
“A lot of things must be sorted sort out” when it comes to the Marion County workforce, he said.
Employers need to evaluate hiring practices and job requirements
Skinner said employers need to examine their hiring practices and job requirements, some of which have been in place for decades and need a refresh.
During the national recession in 2008, businesses cut jobs and added responsibilities. Skinner gave an example of a company accountant position. During the recession, an accountant may have been laid off and a receptionist was asked to keep the books.
Skinner has told companies that if they are looking for an accountant today, they shouldn’t advertise for a receptionist with accounting duties. He said they must advertise for an accountant, because the hybrid jobs will limit the talent pool.
Another issue: potential red flags.
“Are you turning away people because of something that doesn’t have a direct bearing on the job candidate you’re looking for?” Skinner asked. He specifically was talking about criminal records or tattoos being deal breakers.
“Don’t throw a resume out just because they have an arrest history, but look to see if it is the type of infraction that really is going to cause a problem,” he said.
Back in the 1970s Skinner graduated college with several buddies who all had long hair. He was a Vietnam War veteran and couldn’t get a job because of his long hair.
Skinner said he runs into some of those same college friends, who now own businesses, and they say they are turning down applicants because they have tattoos.
“Wait a minute, didn’t you complain back in 1973 or 1974 that no one would hire you because you had long hair,” Skinner said. “It’s like, wait a minute, what the heck’s going on here? Businesses need to look closer at the job requirements.”
Officials say employers need to be competitive, especially with wages
Another issue is that many businesses are keeping their wages low. That means qualified workers are going to positions that pay more, and low-paying businesses are ending up with applicants without the needed job skills.
“The labor market has changed so much,” Skinner said. “There are so many different pieces that everyone has to adapt to. And we found that that’s a big problem.”
Skinner said he asks company human resources employees if they know whether their wages and benefits are competitive.
“If they (other companies) are paying three dollars an hour more than you’re paying, that is 120 dollars more per week,” Skinner said.
Owner of 2 restaurants says pandemic has altered the hiring landscape
Webster Luzuriaga, the owner of Latinos y Mas Restaurant and Ipanema Brazilian Steak House, both on South Pine Avenue in Ocala, said he is able to retain some of his dedicated workers, but struggles to keep servers, bus boys and dish washers.
“It is now difficult to hire positions that you can train anybody to do,” Luzuriaga said. “It’s hard to find it now. I mean, if you get one or two, they don’t last you a couple of weeks and they’re gone.”
Luzuriaga said hourly pay rates are rising in many industries, and now employees have high expectations. “They say: ‘I need to make $15 per hour right now.’ “
“It’s hard to compete with construction jobs and warehousing jobs,” said Luzuriaga, adding that employees without skills have higher expectations now. “You get people (job candidates) with no experience wanting to make more money.”
He added that small business owners can’t compete with larger companies, especially warehousing companies, which pay much more.
“The one true fact is that there’s not many people available to work in the restaurant industry,” Luzuriaga said.
The crisis has passed for most businesses, but challenges remain
Sheilley said that most business owners say most of their positions are now filled and “the crisis piece that I was hearing about a while back has kind of leveled off.”
“As we continue to attract new residents, I think that it certainly helps us because many of them are coming to fill jobs and look for jobs,” Sheilley said, adding that Marion added 10,000 new residents last year. “A growing community helps to fill job openings.”
Still, workforce challenges remain. Skinner asks employers if they are actively recruiting high school graduates. “Are you trying to go in there and talk to kids who are in programs that are related to your industry?”
Officials also said members of the labor force may not be flexible enough to learn a new occupation. Skinner said: “A lot of times, people who have been in a career for a long time, it’s very difficult for them to see how they can move into another career.”
“I think it’s gonna take adjustments on both sides of the labor force,” he noted.
Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Ocala/Marion business owners may need to adjust hiring practices