The Madison County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly luncheon, Sept. 2 at Dodson Orchards. This month's special guest speakers were from the Missouri Department of Higher Education Workforce Development.
Employee Relations and Engagement Specialist Vickey Bonney started things off by introducing the regional team, Business Services Specialist Alvin Sutton, Veteran Services Dan Alfaro, and Business Services Manager Debra Thompson. Not present was Supervisor Sharrie Berowski and WIOA Lead Becky Murphy.
"I have worked with Missouri Job Center for six years, and for a year and a half I have been the employee relations and engagement specialist," Bonney said. "I cover the entire southeast quarter of the state so I'm usually on the road. I wanted to introduce to you the rest of the business team from the Park Hills Job Center so that you have contacts who are local."
Bonney said they know right now it is a really difficult time for employers. She said it is hard to get people to apply and it is hard to get them to show up.
"We just had one of our case managers working with someone," Bonney said. "He had three job offers within thirty minutes and he accepted all three of them. Now you have three employers that think he is going to be there, but he isn't going to be at all of them."
Bonney said the employee said he was not planning to work at all three jobs but planned to go home, think about it and decide what he wanted to do.
"That is the nature of the beast right there," Bonney said. "It is very, very difficult for employers. Two years ago, you have 20 applicants for one position, now you have 20 positions for one applicant, it's very difficult."
Bonney then welcomed Sutton to delve deeper into the topic.
"Employers have job vacancies that they cannot fill," Sutton said. "There is a preconceived notion or a general opinion of what that problem is and I suspect some of us have muttered it. That is that the federal benefits, the unemployment, the extended state unemployment benefit, that may be true in some cases, but I think there is a bigger issue."
Sutton gave an analogy saying that a bonfire is symbolic of the labor force shortage and when COVID-19 hit, it was like pouring gasoline on the fire.
"The problem was looming out there on the horizon and it was low crawling and sneaking up on us," Sutton said. "COVID-19 just exacerbated an already on the way situation."
Sutton said, there are several things going on. He said COVID-19 did impact a lot of people, there is no doubt, but studies show the labor force participation rate has been declining for quite some time.
"The current labor force participation rate is equitable to the labor force participation rate of 1970," Sutton said. "The recession of 1970, some of us will remember there was a guy named Nixon, he implemented some plans in an attempt to offset high inflation. Those plans didn’t go so well."
Sutton said those plans caused a lot of problems including the labor force participation rate. He said, in early 2020, before COVID-19, a survey of employers across the country had 72% of employers reporting a shortage of workers.
"That rate of labor participation decline was 32% in 2015, so from 2015 to 2020 it jumped from about 32% to over 70%," Sutton said. "Now that is not good news, but you know misery loves company so let's dig a little bit deeper."
Sutton said the population is also on a decline, and he does not know how it was not noticed before.
"The population growth in the last 10 years in the United States is comparable to the only one other period in our time and that was around the great depression, in the 1930s," Sutton said. "The growth rate is under 10% and in a 10 year period that is incredibly low."
Sutton also discussed concerns with the decline in birth rates, and the accelerated exit rate of the baby boomer's from the workforce.
"The solution, there is no one size fits all solution in here," Sutton said. "There is no silver bullet. Everybody's company is different. Everybody's organization operates differently."
Sutton said the first thing to do is retention, to keep the people you have. He said it is important to identify those getting ready to leave and try to figure out ways to retain them possibly by restructuring or realigning duties.
"We have to focus on the experience and the people we have," Sutton said. "We have to find a way to retain them. Identify those baby boomers that are in your organization and find out what you can do to keep them around longer."
Sutton said, the second thing to do is to take a step back and look at your company as a whole, who is in your company, how does your company work.
"We come from an era where efficiency was the thing, we streamlined everything, we made it efficient," Sutton said. "The problem with efficiency, generally speaking, it has made us a little fragile because if Dan is the only guy that does his job, he is the subject matter expert, what happens when Dan leaves? Everything comes to a screeching halt."
Sutton said it is very important to cross train employees just like he did in the military.
"We've got to cross train people," Sutton said. "We did this in the military a lot. When we would go out to a job or a mission. I knew what Dan was going to do, he knew what I was going to do. If I checked out, Dan could pick up my slack. We have to do that in our organizations and in our companies."
Sutton said the perfect applicant does not exist anymore and employers may need to begin looking at and for future employees differently.
Bonney ended the talk by reminding the chamber members that the Missouri Job Center is here to serve all employers. She said they can help with finding applicants, wording job descriptions, training and much more.
"Everything that we do you already paid for, it is your tax dollars at work, you may as well use them," Bonney said.
Madison County Chamber of Commerce Board Member Tessa Rehkop thanked the Workforce Development representatives for the highly requested program and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the great resources.
The next meeting of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce is at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 7 at Pinecrest Camp.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at firstname.lastname@example.org