It’s Hard To Find Good Help These Days: The COVID-19 Employment Quandary

I don’t know about you, but my company’s been in a pinch.  Trying to find decent, reliable help has been near impossible.  We’ve been trying to place a temp worker or two for some simple sorting work, and secondary help on one of our bigger machining operations.  For months, the misses have far outnumbered the hits.  You name it, they’ve suffered from it: unreliable, slow, even showing up under the influence.

“I’m gonna need to take a day…”

Help Wanted…Please!

Granted, finding good quality hourly temp workers is more challenging than, say, hiring an engineer, salesman or even a technician on any given day.  But it’s been especially hard since COVID-19 shut everything down last spring.  There have been “Help Wanted” signs everywhere.  Several companies have had signs up since last year offering regular job fairs and walk-in interviews.

Employers everywhere are hard up for good help, and they’re having to make concessions to try and get bodies in the door.  A particular company’s Help Wanted ad mentioned that a drug screen is required, but that they are “THC friendly”. One business owner had enough of not finding good help, and bumped his starting hourly rate far above the norm.  This one was a big hit, and from reports I’ve heard from local colleagues, he’s had a flood of new help knocking at his door.

Why Is It So Hard To Find Good Help Lately?

Shutdowns

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has certainly been a novel virus.  And it’s brought some novel side effects to local, state and national economies.  Nationally, the effects were devastating as early as April of last year, with record job losses across the country.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was at 3.9% in September 2019.  A year later, it had more than doubled to 8.5%.  Shutdowns have crippled the entire economy, but they’ve hit small businesses especially hard.  Restaurants have been the hardest hit, with record numbers of them closing their doors for good last year.  Overall, over 1/3 of Michigan’s “mom and pop shops” went out of business last year.

Nationally, the unemployment rate hovered at about 4% just before the shutdowns.  It spiked to nearly 4 times that in April, and has been on a slow but steady decline since.  Even as recently as January, though, it’s still a full 2 percentage points higher than before the shutdown.

Relief Money

With all of this unemployment and so many productive people out of jobs, why can’t the companies that are hiring find good help?  Enter the financial stimulus packages.  Everyone received either a $600 (individual) a $1,200 (couples) check last year.  Businesses received forgivable loans in the Payroll Protection Act.  Congress dealt out another $600 per person late last year, and they’re looking to fully repeat both individual and small business stimulus plans this year.

Add in the extended unemployment benefits… Michigan citizens received an extra $600 from March 28th 2020, retroactive as needed, to July 31st, and the benefit timeline was expanded an extra 6 weeks.  As of late December 2020, an 11-week extension and a $300 bonus was given for unemployment benefits.

In short, people and companies are being paid not to work.  I’m not implying anything diabolical here, I’m just saying it’s yet another unfortunate side effect of the pandemic.  What was a well-intentioned action on the part of congress has had unintended negative effects on the economy.  Businesses were closed or on very reduced hours; people were out of work, not collecting their normal paychecks; bills, like time, march on no matter what – rent, mortgages, car payments and groceries all needed taken care of.

Fear Factor

There is concern among many that going back to work means exposing themselves to the virus, which has had devastating effects on some people.  Every day for months on any number of news outlets, all you heard about was increasing case rates; increasing death rates; hospitals near or at capacity.  I get it, the point of media outlets is to inform the public on the state of current events.  But another unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is, all of the constant broadcasting about it has created an attitude of fear.  People fearing for their health, even their very lives.

On the other side of the COVID coin, people are encouraged to call in and stay home if they feel even a little under the weather, because it could be the coronavirus.  They’re supposed to go to the doctor, get checked out and get tested.  But the doctor’s offices have been so overwhelmed that, unless the person has severe symptoms, they’re told to go home and treat it like a normal cold or flu.  So they stay home for a day or two, just to be sure.  If they do warrant a test, and the result is positive, there’s the two-week quarantine.

It’s no wonder that people aren’t going back to work regularly, and businesses are struggling to get back up and running like normal.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Pfizer and Moderna were both at the front of the line to release their COVID-19 vaccines, and those are in the process of being rolled out now.  Johnson & Johnson has a very promising candidate awaiting approval, also.  Once the vaccines are fully implemented, people can start feeling safe again and hopefully get back to normal.

Their arrival is not a moment too soon…for the physical health of the public, of course, especially the vulnerable demographic.  But also, for the health of our economy.  And for people’s mental health.  One of the more sinister yet less broadcast side effects from all of the shutdowns and sheltering-in-place have been the marked increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic abuse and even suicide.

I believe that a majority of America is ready to get back to normal, and get back to work.  There is a difference between caution and fear.  What we need from our media and our government are words of encouragement and hope.  This can really turn the tide – change the public mindset, and get people fired up again.