PAINESVILLE, Ohio — This past weekend, an extra $300/week in federal unemployment ended for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans.
Many have tied that extra benefit to the recent rise in open and available positions across all sorts of industries and the lack of people returning to the workforce.
Count Mickey Lemonovich among those who will be swayed by the cut to rejoin the workforce. She left her job at a nearby gas station in March of 2020 and has lived off her unemployment since then, in an effort to avoid contracting COVID-19.
“I was able to make it better [with unemployment] than with my job, honestly,” she said. “I’m not qualified for anything other than low-paying jobs that make $9/hour. Nobody can survive on that.”
Cory Vojack serves as a staffing services supervisor at Ohio Means Jobs Lake County, and while that reasoning does present itself when he and his coworkers help individuals, it’s hardly the only reasoning behind this lag of workers returning to the office.
“There’s a lot of job seekers waiting for their turn to work or they are trying to pivot their careers to something different,” he said. “The pandemic kind of pushed everyone off that cliff of making, ‘this is a good time for me to make that career move.’”
This new mindset began to present itself when the pandemic began, Vojack said.
A quick glance on the Ohio Means Jobs website showcases more than 189,000 open positions, with the majority of them making more than $50,000/year.
Ohio’s unemployment rate remains at about 5% and has stayed that way since last fall. However, signs to attract new hires continue to pop up as often as home-for-sale signs.
But unlike the real estate market, it’s the buyers, or in this case the applicants, with all the leverage.
“We’re trying to connect those dots,” Vojack explained. “The job seekers are in control as far as the opportunities they can pick from right now.”
Vojack explained to News 5 that employers need to take extra care when it comes to posting a job if they plan on finding someone to fill it anytime soon.
“Be very specific in your needs and be willing to train too,” he added.
Companies adapt to attract new hires
Even before the pandemic began, Midwest Materials in Perry worked to shake off the stereotype that comes with being a steel industry company to help bring in the next generation of workers.
“The younger generation has different work ideas than me as a Gen-Xer, or some of the baby boomers still here,” CEO Brian Robbins said.
That included $1 million worth of renovations to their offices, upgrading their technology, and other ways to compete with the stereotypes of a tech start-up.
“We bring in food, have cafes, and have really invested in culture and morale,” Robbins said.
While that might sound like hiring isn’t a problem at this steel servicing center, it’s still not ideal during the pandemic as this company of 65 employees is still trying to fill 25 positions in everything from customer support, sales, IT, purchasing and workers in their warehouse.
“We would put on a full additional shift if we could hire people,” Robbins added.
News 5 spoke to one recent hire who found the opportunity via the job-search website Indeed. That employee said they ended up with Midwest Materials originally because they were the first company to respond to his application.
“Culturally, things have changed,” Robbins said. “If someone is applying to me via one of these sites, they're probably applying to four or five people at the time. Similar to what’s going on in the housing market, you have to bid almost sight unseen. That’s what the labor market is. Somebody will apply, and although we’re not going to be too reckless and say you’re hired without some due diligence, we really tried to shorten that process.”
A new recruiting specialist is set to begin at Midwest Materials this week, dedicated to helping fill those positions.
On top of that, the company started offering pay increases for those who are vaccinated, flexible hours, sign-on bonuses, and a starting pay up 30-40% compared to a year ago.
“Every day it’s something we talk about,” Robbins said. “What are we going to do next? Who are we going to talk to next? We hope to find a way to incentivize people to come back to work. First, I was just competing to get people into manufacturing. Now, I’m competing against ‘working.’”