Continuing struggles by organizations to find qualified job applicants reached a new peak in the annual city workforce survey findings released this month.
The 2022 Momentum State of the Workforce Survey noted 82% of respondents found difficulty hiring qualified employees over the past year. The previous high for the eighth-annual survey was 72%, reported in 2017. Survey results were revealed by the Missouri Job Center during a March 10 event at the Efactory. Sally Payne, city of Springfield’s workforce development director, said the health care and for-profit sectors particularly struggled to make hires, reporting 97% and 89%, respectively.
“That is a very large increase over the past year,” Payne said of the overall total, noting it was 68% in 2021.
When digging into reasons why organizations experienced hiring difficulties last year, the survey said lack of qualified applicants led the way with 80%, followed by prospects failing to show up for an interview at 64%.
“Ghosting is still happening. You wouldn’t think so, but it is,” Payne said.
Increasing pay was a top survey response for strategies used by employers to attract and retain employees. A survey record high of 51% responded that they had boosted compensation for prospective employees, up from 46% last year. Investing in raises for the existing workforce was even higher, at 70%. The previous record was 62% in 2021.
Making an investment
Randy Tucker, human resources manager with Dairy Farmers of America Inc., said his organization is among those making investments in its employees this year. Tucker spoke on a workforce panel at the March 10 event, joining John Sargent with Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co., Greg Burris of United Way of the Ozarks and Dr. Curtis Mattson of CoxHealth.
Tucker said DFA instituted raises for its workforce a few weeks ago, resulting in $2.40 per hour more for its production staff and an hourly hike of $3.50 for maintenance employees. Additionally, the starting hourly wage went to $20 from $17.
“I’m certainly optimistic that in the coming days that once that information gets out to those prospective employees that we will see more interest and certainly be able to retain [workers],” he said. “We’ve still been able to hire, but we still experience turnover.”
While the coronavirus pandemic didn’t create labor issues, Sargent said there’s additional pressures connected with the workforce that weren’t present two years ago.
“It’s crazy to think about how difficult it is to remember what it was like prior to 2020,” Sargent said. “Things have changed so much.”
Mattson said one area COVID helped shine a light on is with mental health – something that a larger paycheck doesn’t solve.
“It’s really not so much about every time somebody is unhappy, can you increase the pay,” he said. “It’s about what are we doing to take care of the people around us.”
Employers need to look for warning signs, Mattson said, such as workers taking long lunch breaks, leaving work early, having increased negativity and being apathetic to workplace initiatives.
“When you see some sort of negative behavior increasing, that’s when it’s time to start paying attention,” he said. “If you don’t notice it to the point where the person is just not showing up to work, it’s obviously gotten too far.”
The workforce survey also touched on automation – an issue in which Payne said a lot of workers have fears.
“They think it’s going to mean a loss of jobs,” she said. “But according to our survey, that won’t happen. However, automation will require retraining of existing workers.”
In the survey, 39% of respondents said they’re very likely to incorporate new technologies in the next year that automate processes. However, 44% said the impact of automation in the organization won’t affect employment levels, while another 37% expect it will require retraining existing employees.
Payne said employers with hiring struggles have a real opportunity to make special efforts to connect with specific groups, such as veterans, minorities and formerly incarcerated individuals.
“The Job Center has educational lunch-and-learns just to try and work with employers on encouraging hiring those with disabilities and stay-at-home parents,” she said, noting organizations making special efforts to hire in those two categories responded at 38% and 36%, respectively.
During the panel discussion, Burris, CEO and president of United Way of the Ozarks, encouraged companies to engage their employees in the community. He said doing so helps the workplace become “sticky,” which can boost employee retention.
“They want to stay with your organization,” Burris said. “Their pride in their employer goes way up. Their loyalty to their employer goes up, and they become your best recruiters. If your employees aren’t your best recruiters right now, you probably have deeper issues.”
Springfield’s survey, administered by Opinion Research Specialists LLC, compiles responses from businesses, educational institutions, health care organizations, municipalities and nonprofits within the Job Center’s seven-county Ozarks region. The coverage area is Greene, Christian, Dallas, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties.
Respondents completed 244 surveys this year, a drop of roughly 20% from 2021. Job Center spokesperson Katherine Trombetta said despite the decreased response rate, the results “accurately reflect the current economic and workforce climate.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.