Like dating, hiring people during a pandemic has become hard if not impossible.
In fact, many employers are struggling with the same experiences as singles: potential prospects flaking and ‘ghosting’ on interviews, inflated egos and wages, and people casually walking out on jobs.
While Williamson Inc. isn’t in the business of marriage brokering, the organization tried to play matchmaker for area employers.
On Thursday, 187 Middle Tennessee employers from 23 different sectors set up tables at a Williamson Inc. job fair in hopes of finding suitors to fill more than 4,000 available jobs, most of which required no experience or education.
As if the number of opportunities wasn’t encouraging enough, the median starting hourly wage offered by employers at the event was $14 an hour — just over two times Tennessee’s $7.25 minimum wage.
It seemed like Williamson Inc. had the perfect formula, but the numbers didn’t add up due to one key variable: applicants. Fewer than 200 job-seekers attended the event. Participating employers were disappointed, but not surprised, with the low turn-out.
Katie Parnell is the general manager of the Banana Republic at Cool Springs Galleria. She said she has set up booths at 10 different area hiring events in the last two months, but at each event, she has left with few to no leads.
Kelsey Cooper, the hiring manager for Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, said only about two out of every 10 applicants show up or answer the phone for scheduled interviews. She said she has tried everything from sending calendar invites to texts and email reminders to improve that number.
“We’ll have applicants confirm their interview time three different ways, but when it comes time, they either don’t show up or don’t answer the phone,” Cooper said.
Pam Whitaker, a recruiter for Maury Regional Medical Center, said she could relate to Cooper’s frustration.
“I’ve even left messages with people who no-showed for their scheduled interview and told them if they just call back we will offer them a job,” Whitaker said.
Employers have done everything they can think of to make themselves and their jobs more attractive. Cooper and Whitaker both said they are raising wages and offering flexible shifts.
Cooper said the starting wage at Martin’s is $14 an hour. Two years ago, the median hourly wage for a food service employee in Williamson County was $10.35. Martin’s wage is nearly a 40 percent pay increase since then. Whitaker said the hospital is also opening its wallet. Maury Regional is increasing its starting pay next month in an effort to entice applicants.
As far as hours are concerned, both Cooper and Whitaker said they are offering flexible full-time and part-time shifts and allowing applicants to work as much or as little as they want.
In the event employers are able to find help, many employees don’t stick around for very long.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average tenure of a new hire in the service industry in 2021 is just one month.
“We’ve had people tell us they are going to lunch, but then they never come back. They just ghost us,” said Whitaker.
A construction hiring manager at the job fair reiterated Whitaker’s complaints. He said he has an employee who will only show up “when he feels like it.” But he can’t fire him because he doesn’t have anyone else to fill his spot.
As with any relationship, the blame doesn’t fall all on one person or issue. Even with increased wages, the price of gas and cost is outpacing wage growth. Gas prices have jumped 41.8 percent since last August. The median commute in Tennessee is 16 miles one way, while the median gas price in Williamson County is $3.42 a gallon. For some people, the increase in wages is barely covering the increase in the cost of gas.
As the Delta variant dashes across the state, COVID continues to be a concern — especially for those applying for jobs in the medical field. Whitaker said there are still a number of people who do not feel comfortable working in a hospital due to the Delta variant.
She added that childcare is still a complication.
“Even before the pandemic, people struggled to find child care for young kids,” Whitaker said. “They breathed a sigh of relief when their children finally reached school age, but if kids have to learn virtually again, elementary school parents will have to quit work and stay home or figure out how to pay for daycare.”
It’s unknown whether Cooper or Whitaker found any future employees yesterday, but both women said the event almost served as a “support group” for fellow employers.
“In a strange way, it’s encouraging to know we aren’t the only business battling these challenges,” Cooper said.
Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen echoed the opine.
“For the first time in more than a year, many employers were able to connect in person with other businesses in the area, share new strategies and offer encouragement to one another. In that regard, I consider the event a success,” said Largen.