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Portlanders are picking and choosing their jobs as unemployment falls, and businesses must finesse their offerings to compete, says the PBA.

PMG PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Lake Oswego's Gemini Bar & Grill reopened earlier in the summer of 2021, but the popular establishment has struggled to hire new employees. Economists say the reason for the high number of job openings is a complex issue.

The Portland Business Alliance, Portland's Chamber of commerce, convened a panel of labor experts on Sept. 15 via Zoom on the subject of "Portland's Tight Labor Market."

"Tight," in this case, means unemployment is dropping even as people are resigning from jobs or not looking for work due to new reasons, such as lack of childcare or fear of COVID-19.The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that nationally, the number of unemployed persons per job opening was 0.8, as of the end of July 2021, making it a jobseeker's market.

Recruiter Orlando Williams, chief executive and equity officer at Motus Recruiting and Staffing, was the moderator and the only person of color on the panel. He asked them for their best ideas.

The State Employment Economist in Salem, Gail Krumenauer, pointed out that during the Great Recession, at 18 months past the initial downturn, we were still losing jobs.

"We lost jobs every month for about two years. Now 18 months past the initial downturn in the (COVID-19) recession, Oregon has regained nearly three-fourths or 72% of the jobs that were lost in the spring of 2020." (Nationally, the number is 76%.)

Even though hospitality has been hit hard since 2020, she also indicated the speed of its recovery:

"Oregon's restaurants and bars, hotels and entertainment places have added more than 29,000 jobs back this year, that's in eight months. Prior to the pandemic (the sector) added 29,000 jobs in five years or 61 months. So, things are moving incredibly fast."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Jorge Meza (left, in Nikes) and Christopher Dominguez Ford at a job fair on Sept 8, 2021 at Clackamas Town Center. The Portland job market is tight and now is the time for employers to offer perks and benefits as well as increased wages, according to a panel of experts convened by the Portland Business Alliance.

80,000 more jobs by summer 2022

Within that, there were growing pains, such as people being prevented from looking for work due to COVID concerns, lack of childcare, or school.

Krumenauer stated, "I know there's also a lot of sentiment that unemployment benefits have been the sole thing keeping people from working, yet hiring has been moving at an unprecedented pace while those benefits were in place." What is more likely to speed up hiring is schools being back in session.

She said economists expect to add another 80,000 jobs in Oregon by summer 2022.

There are two headwinds against Oregon putting people back to work. She said one headwind is that, traditionally, Oregon has grown its workforce by in-migration. However, in-migration was down 20% in 2020, and it was going down for three or four years before that. The other headwind is retirement, which although it took a pause in 2020, it is expected to rise again, leaving more job vacancies.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon's Employment Department has been busy in 2021 trying to match unemployed workers and their skills with the surplus of jobs. The pandemic has made jobseekers more choosy about flexibility and benefits said a panel of experts convened by the Portland Business Alliance.

The American dream is a myth

Bridget Dazey, Executive Director, Clackamas Workforce Partnership, said it was simplistic to blame benefits for people not working, adding that there are other factors.

"One is the care industry has been undervalued for far too long, with a lack of affordable and available childcare and adult care options," said Dazey. "Women feel the brunt of having to choose family over income." Second, "There's simply not enough people to do all of the jobs."

Third, we are overlooking the public's mental health and sense of loss caused by the pandemic, as well as burnout.

"Four, people have discovered that they have options and are choosing not to enter a job with little chance of advancement or the ability to thrive. People are valuing their time and their lives and not putting themselves on the line with little return. The American Dream is a myth, so we have to reimagine the world of work in the 21st century, not based on the Industrial Revolution's 40-hour workweek, give everything to one employer and hope it pays off."

Do benefits slow jobseekers?

About benefits, Andrew McGough, Executive Director of Worksystems, Inc., added, "Those states who have eliminated benefits early are not showing a significant decline in the unemployment rate, so it's a much more complex question." He reported that the recent Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report said there are 10.9 million open jobs which exceeded the number of unemployed people by over two million. "So, the math just doesn't bear out that eliminating these benefits is going to solve the problem."

Krumenauer said that Oregon's job vacancy survey showed a one-to-one ratio between the number of unemployed people and the number of job vacancies.

"And there are record numbers of people quitting their jobs," Krumenauer said. Also, the brand-new census data showed that direct stimulus payments and unemployment insurance benefits prevented millions of people from falling into poverty in 2020. Census organizers said, "The more than $400 billion in two rounds of stimulus payments the government distributed during the pandemic helped lift 11.7 million people out of poverty in 2020, according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) released earlier this week."

"Unemployment insurance benefits (are) a part of the broader safety net," which includes direct federal stimulus payments and child tax credits, said Krumenauer.

Participation rates

Kevin Perkey, Executive Director for Workforce Southwest Washington, said that labor force participation rates are not back up yet to the pre-pandemic rates. They are at around 61% nationally, when they were 63% pre-pandemic.

Perkey's colleagues have formed a Columbia Willamette workforce collaborative, a partnership between the three regional workforce boards.

"One of the things that gives us hope is a strong interest from our business community and our community colleges to think about what does high-quality employment look like? And how can we help businesses be competitive through that sort of conversation (with) job seekers?"

This effort is all about redefining what good jobs are and creating a more inclusive job pool. McGough said that there were obvious things to do, such as reviewing and modernizing job descriptions and emphasizing the opportunities and benefits of working with your company.

"Make sure that you're not leaving potential applicants out either because of unnecessary or inflated qualifications or experience requirements, or even bias implied within your job postings."

Parks

Bridget Dazey's tip was that employers should be embracing equity and inclusion for people with disabilities, as well as "those that have been either justice-involved or are returning citizens, our trans and non-binary community, and really opening the door for people that are not necessarily acknowledged as a talent pipeline."

Flexible schedules are also becoming important. If someone's kid's school gets shut down for COVID, the parents need to be allowed to work from home or take time off, instead of immediately losing their job. Employers should think broadly.

Dazey mentioned a family-friendly job fair that took place at Oaks Park. "There were rides, snacks and activities for kids while parents were able to speak with hiring managers. Engaging a whole family is absolutely possible in the hiring process."

Perks

Krumenauer said employers are layering their strategy to find workers.

"So there's the obvious one, raise wages, and that's happening. Employers have raised wages across the board, even beyond inflation, over the past several months."

They are also adding benefits, bonuses, and other perks for existing and new employees to keep them. She also plugged DiversityWorks as a Portland-made app for employees to use to find their career direction, calling it a "non-preachy retention tool."

Another fact from the economist: In 2018, half of the employers did not offer paid vacation or paid holidays — that is changing. Finally, Krumenauer said there should be a loosening of work requirements. "Do you really have to have a master's degree to get this job?"

Portlandistan

"Portland has taken a hit nationally, and internationally, in terms of the reputation, and it's going to be an ongoing challenge for us," McGough said.

Orlando Williams of Motus said that Portlanders need to work on the city's branding.

"Recruiters can't put your head in the sand," Williams said. "We have to be able to shape the narrative and talk about the positive attributes of the city and talk about why it's great to work here."

The mainstream media image of Portland is currently one of riots and homelessness with a side dish of trash and wildfires.

"If we ignore the conversation, candidates are left to then come up with their own ideas of what is happening. And we are not able to alleviate or at least combat some of those narratives."

Hire anybody

Williams added that in a tight labor market, recruiters take the path of least resistance. "And that means leveraged intentionality, planning, focus and budget are going to be keys to success for making sure that you have a diverse candidate."

One silver lining: The pandemic might not have been such a bad thing for the future of work.

Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, concluded that Portland businesses must wise up to the tight labor market. "It's not this temporal issue we face. We're all rethinking this, in a way that has been upended by the pandemic and the flexibility that has been offered by the use of technologies."

Reports on:

Job Recovery Strengthens in 2021

Recruitment and Retention in a Tight Labor Market

Workforce Diversity Retention Project


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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