A declining population that predates the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a limited workforce that continues to impact hiring challenges for Guernsey County businesses as the new year begins.
According to the 2020 US Census report, there are 38,438 people in Guernsey County, down slightly from a previous projection of 38,750 and down 4.1% from 2010, when the population totaled 40,087 inhabitants.
“Probably the most important piece of data to recognize in our county is the decline in our population,” said Sue Thomas-Sikora, deputy director of the Guernsey County Department of Employment and Family Services and the County of OhioMeansJobs Guernsey.
“However, our commercial and industrial base has remained strong. We are fortunate that employers have remained committed to our county, but as people move, it is more difficult to meet their employment needs.”
Future estimates indicate that the population of Guernsey County will be 37,310 in 2030 and 36,390 in 2040.
With one of the lowest unemployment rates (4.1%) in recent county history, the reality is that there just aren’t enough people to fill the vacancies.
“We are seeing a lot of job openings, but it is still very difficult to fill them,” added Kathy Jamiel, executive director of the Department of Employment and Family Services for Guernsey County and OhioMeansJobs. “We’re doing everything we can to attract people and make sure they know what’s available.
“In some places the need is greater than we can even meet,” Jamiel added.
Statistics show that only 713 of the estimated workforce totaling 17,300 people in the county of Guernsey are unemployed.
“Essentially, we had a labor shortage before the pandemic,” Thomas-Sikora said. “There may be new factors to consider when reviewing the current COVID-related market, but employer demand has exceeded the workforce available in the county before the pandemic.”
Guernsey County’s unemployment rate is similar to that of the state of Ohio (4.8%) and the country (4.2%)
“The number of job openings far exceeds the number of people available to work,” Thomas-Sikora said of the statewide issue. “It has been said that if we were to put everyone currently unemployed back to work, we would still be a long way from responding to job offers from Ohio employers.”
OhioMeansJobs Guernsey County reports the local workforce was 19,900 in 2007, but has since declined to 18,100 in 2011 and 17,300 in 2021.
The agency reports some of the factors for people leaving Guernsey County:
- A lack of affordable and available housing.
- Lack of attractive amenities.
- Lack of extensive public transport.
- Not going back to college.
- Better job opportunities.
Other reasons why the workforce is shrinking
In addition to population decline, factors affecting the disappearance of the workforce include more baby boomers retiring and not returning to work, a reduction in the number of men aged 25 to 54 years old participating in the labor force and women leaving the labor force.
“We are seeing people choosing to voluntarily leave the workforce in greater numbers than ever before,” Thomas-Sikora said.
Locally, OMJ staff members are having discussions with employers trying to understand what is going on and they are discovering that it is a market of job seekers.
People are now addressing work-life balance issues, want to work from home due to the pandemic, shortage of childcare or adult daycare, want better working hours or expect a better salary.
“A lot of these reasons are the reasons we hear every day at the OMJ office,” Thomas-Sikora said.
The Southeast Ohio Economic Development Team that serves Guernsey and other counties in the region also cited a Columbus Business First report attributing the lowest birth rate in U.S. history as a factor that may have an impact on the long-term shortage of workers.
Norm Blanchard, executive director of the Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation and the Port Authority, recently said local plant managers had expressed staffing concerns ahead of a potential expansion.
The same concerns face businesses looking to locate in Guernsey County.
The Southeast Ohio Economic Development Team visited or met virtually with more than 220 businesses last year. The team reported that finding, developing and keeping good employees is the number one topic employers talk about.
Bob Koscoe of Atkore International Inc, also known locally as Monogram Metals, in Byesville, said things have improved slightly but there is still an unmet demand for workers.
“We’re still having trouble hiring people, but we’re doing a little better because we’ve increased our pay rate and started offering hiring bonuses,” Koscoe said. “But, it’s always hard to get and then keep people and I don’t know why.
“There are a lot of people, but they just don’t want to work.”
OhioMeansJobs Guernsey County works to understand local workforce data and change business practices, including better recruiting strategies, removing barriers such as childcare, transportation, and opportunities of learning.
“Employers are beginning to recognize that they need to re-evaluate their standard way of operating and consider changes to pay scales, workplaces and benefits in order to recruit for their companies,” Thomas-Sikora said.
More virtual services such as virtual job fairs; online job searches, workshops and training; Zoom meeting; online CV services and job creation incentives are also essential.
“We are looking to become more creative in our services to employers, both in our recruiting techniques and in the programs we offer,” Sikora-Thomas said. “In addition, we use Facebook and other online recruiting sources to reach those looking for work.
“We can also help qualified job seekers with employment incentives during the new-hire phase and training assistance for incumbent workers to employers who may choose to upgrade the skills of existing employees to meet the labor needs in these difficult times.”
Some of the incentives currently offered by employers to attract new employees include signing bonuses, pay rate increases, shift bonuses, attendance and production bonuses, employer paid health insurance, additional vacation days, flexible working hours and employer-paid training.
“Employers try to be creative in getting people to work,” Jamiel said.
The federal government‘s elimination of stimulus payments during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some people back to work, but not enough to make a meaningful difference in the workforce.
Blanchard said another way local authorities are trying to keep people working locally instead of leaving the county is the Guernsey Workforce Collaborative, an education-industry coalition organized by the East Central Ohio Educational Service Center.
Each of the three school districts has a career navigator who works with local business leaders and students regarding local employment opportunities.
“We partner with local schools to support their career navigators,” Thomas-Sikora said.
“We recognize that we need to invest in the future workforce of our employers and our partnership with our local high schools gives us the opportunity to educate children about the types of jobs available in the community and encourage them consider staying close to home. »
OhioMeansJobs Guernsey County also offers resume help and training to improve interview skills. It also provides qualified residents with funding for special training or college education.
“Things are changing and impacting people getting back to work, but jobs are available,” Jamiel said. “We are here to help people.”
In December, the OMJ reported that the highest job demand statewide included registered nurses, heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers, front-line supervisors for retail salespersons, retail salespersons and restaurant workers.
“From November 2020 to November 2021, our employee vacancy rate more than doubled to 108%,” said Steven Brooks, vice president of human resources at Southeastern Ohio Regional Medical Center.
“Nursing vacancies have been very hard to fill and those openings are up 317% over the previous year. Typically we might have five or six openings, but right now we have 23 or 24 openings displayed.”
Brooks said many nurses have retired or left bedside care duties due to the risk of caring for COVID-19 patients. Others took on the many traveling nursing positions with higher pay rates.
“Travel positions are so lucrative right now,” Brooks said.
Southeastern Med offered current employees and new hires hiring or retention bonuses, as well as increased pay rates for some of the key employees to fill some of the vacancies and prevent employees from leaving.
“It seems as soon as you hire someone, someone else,” Brooks said. “We exceeded our planned budget trying to recruit and retain people.”
The local OhioMeansJobs provides job listings for Guernsey and surrounding counties.
The OhioMeansJobs County office in Guernsey is located in the Department of Employment and Family Services building at 324 Highland Ave. in Cambridge.
For more information, call the OMJ office, 740-432-2381 or visit www.guernseycountyjfs.org.