Survey reveals reasons behind labor shortage in Portage area - Record Courier

There are many reasons employers are having trouble finding workers, but most of them have to do with the need for flexibility, according to a study commissioned by Portage, Summit and Medina counties.

Christine Marshall, executive director of the Summit and Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments, said Summit, Medina and Portage counties collaborated to study the labor shortage, and examine the root causes.

Among the findings, Marshall told Portage County commissioners, are that workers want employers to include salary information in their job listings, freelance and contract work is a growing part of the job landscape, that COVID-19 has had a big impact on people looking for work, there are mixed feelings about vaccine mandates in the workplace, and workers have a high interest in job training and education. 

The group hired the Center for Marketing & Opinion Research, which surveyed 800 adults in each of the three counties. The firm is now conducting focus groups to further examine the data collected. 

Nationally, she said, overall participation in the workforce has been falling steadily since 2000, as Baby Boomers begin to retire. 

A presentation recently offered to Portage County Commissioners states various ways the COVID-19 pandemic impacted workers.

"When we had the economic downturn in 2008, a lot of folks' 401ks were decimated, so they were going to retire, but they stayed in the workforce another 10, 12 years," she said. "But that brought us to basically the pandemic, and when the pandemic happened, they said 'I'm done.'"

Meanwhile, about a million men nationwide between the ages of 29 and 54 have dropped out of the workforce because of the opioid epidemic.

In addition, 2.4 million women separated from the workforce during the pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men, with commissioners correctly guessing that childcare was the main reason. In January 2021, 275,000 women left the workforce, compared to 71,000 men. 

Of the employed people surveyed regionally, 82 percent work for a company, while 16 percent are self-employed. Only 23 percent had more than one job. Of those who work for a company, the vast majority, 77 percent, consider the job permanent.

Marshall pointed out that 58 percent of people work flexible hours and had been at their jobs more than 10 years.

"Flexibility is a huge theme you're going to see throughout this entire presentation," she told commissioners.

Most retired respondents don't plan to return to the workforce, and many of those surveyed had been out of the workforce for 10 years. However, in Portage County, more than 46 percent of retired respondents are interested in returning to the workforce. 

Marshall said the group wanted to take a look at those who do want to return to see what could be done to lure them back in, she said. 

Only 22 percent of respondents had worked a freelance job, such as Doordash or Uber. Of those, the majority considered that a side job, while 6 percent considered it their main job.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected workers in a number of ways, Marshall said. About a third started a new job, 28% were laid off or lost a job, 26% saw reduced pay or hours, 23% needed to stay home with a child, 11% needed to care for an older relative, 9% started a business and 5% closed a business.

Commissioners asked about the impact of childcare on the workforce. Marshall acknowledged that there are fewer slots in childcare because the pandemic changed the ratio of workers to children, and "we're not paying the childcare worker."

"These are things we've struggled with for a long time," she said. "When you're getting paid $20 an hour at Target, it doesn't make sense to work for $13 an hour at the child care center."

Since the pandemic, many people have had "epiphanies," with  25% saying their career plans have changed, 33% saying COVID has changed what's important about a job, and work priorities have changed for 38%.

"They want to work differently is what this is showing us," Marshall said.

The vast majority of respondents said extra unemployment benefits did not affect their decision to stay out of the workforce or be more selective about a job.

But a growing number of workers are dealing with burnout, with 22% saying they've called off sick because of it, and 42 percent believed they had too much to do and not enough time. Employers, she said, need to acknowledge those feelings, and not put more pressure on their workers.

"Just acknowledge it and work with your folks. You cannot afford to lose anyone," she said. "The game right now is to keep people, right?"

People left their jobs for a variety of reasons, Marshall said, including toxic work environment, low pay and overload.

"And people don't have to take it now, because they can walk out the door and know there's another job they can trip over," she said. 

"People are dying for that human interaction," she said.

She said job training in the workforce might be well received as a retention tool for workers.

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Diane Smith