CAPITAL REGION — Labor Day 2021 finds the Capital Region labor market still waiting to turn the corner, with many employers having continued difficulty hiring enough people.
The list of potential reasons is often recited: Fear of COVID, lack of childcare options, unwillingness to accept low or medium wages, government policies and payouts removing some of the imperative to earn a living.
That last point has been a recurring narrative in the business community through the pandemic: Enhanced benefits make unemployment more lucrative than employment for many people, particularly when the costs of going to work (child care, meals away from home, commuting) are factored in.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in August 2021, the national workforce participation rate — the percentage of working-age Americans employed or actively seeking employment — stood at 61.7%, down from 63.4% in January 2020, the month before COVID began to spread in the United States.
The New York state Department of Labor estimates that 518,600 people were employed in the Capital Region in July 2021. This compares with 504,100 in July 2020 and 531,700 in July 2019.
The shrinking labor force has left many jobs vacant.
The response by employers has ranged from lowering standards to cutting operating hours to raising starting pay — anything to get people to fill out applications
Money is something they use to catch the job hunter’s eye.
UPS is hiring package handlers at its Latham facility at $26.25 an hour, counting attendance incentives.
ADUSA, the Schodack distribution center serving Hannaford, offers experienced truck drivers $85,000 a year to start, plus a $10,000 signing bonus.
Training helps, too.
CDTA will take people with no commercial license and train them to drive a bus.
GlobalFoundries has an apprenticeship program for young people who lack experience but have a desire to work in the growing semiconductor industry.
Others take a different route, and try to accommodate the needs and wants of their employees so they’ll want to work there.
CHANGE OF PLAN
Heidi Knoblauch has worn a number of hats, including chairperson of Troy’s Industrial Development Authority and Local Development Corp. and venture and growth manager at Pioneer Bank.
She’s also an entrepreneur, opening Plumb Oyster Bar in Troy in 2016 and reopening it late last month after a COVID hiatus.
So how does a restaurant find help in one of the tightest sectors in a tight labor market?
Listen to the employees and reshape the business plan, Knoblauch said. All of the people who reopened Plumb with her Aug. 26 were previous employees who wanted to return under the right circumstances.
“I think the [employers] who are really having trouble with their workforce are looking at their industry with a pre-pandemic lens,” she said. “Employers that are going with the flow are having more success attracting employees.
“It’s very simple — you just ask them. You say, ‘What is it that gets you excited about this place?’ It doesn’t matter what I want.”
It’s not an autonomous