Employers abound at job fair but few applicants

By Randy Bartley

Staff Writer

CLARION

More than 50 services, educational organizations and potential employers filled the Clarion Mall April 28 for an employment and education fair.

The only thing missing were numerous potential employees.

Staci Betts, of Career Concepts staffing service in Franklin, which helps people find employment in Western Pennsylvania, said, "It has been very challenging in this environment to find potential employees. Larger companies are struggling, and even the mom-and-pop shops are struggling to find employees.

"Right now we are taking anybody. We may not have an opening right now, but we still want their information because we don't know what companies we might be working with next."

Betts said Career Concepts has openings for professional people and hourly workers, but is having a problem getting applicants across all those fields.

"We are hearing the same thing in all of our branches," she said.

Betts lays blame on the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stimulus money.

"The stimulus and the unemployment payments have really caused a decrease in the number of people who want to go out and work," she said. Numerous people ... tell us they can make more money sitting at home than by going to work.

"It's hard to reboot the economy without workers."

Good help is hard to find right now

Jake Hickman, sawmill manager at Hickman Lumber Co. between Emlenton and Clintonville, said he is "looking for some guys who want to show up every day and go to work. Right now, I am lucky to run one shift.

"We are looking for both skilled and unskilled labor. If someone has sawmill experience, that's great. But, if not, we can teach people to do it as long as they show some initiative."

Jessica Fresch, the company's sales and marketing manager, said Hickman Lumber incentivizes, has competitive wages, health care, paid holidays and matching 401k.

"You can support a family on it," said Fresch, who is Hickman's sister.

The company, she said, employs people who have been with it longer than she and her brother "have been alive," and it's difficult "to find anyone anymore who is committed like that."

Health care industry

The health care industry has been hit hard by the employee shortage.

"Our amount of applicants has decreased by 50 percent over the past month," said Mandy Nugent, a recruiter for WRC Senior Services, a senior living community in Clarion.

"Between February and March we had over 300 applicants, and this month, so far, I have maybe 150 applicants."

Like Career Concepts' Betts, Nugent points at the federal government's stimulus checks.

"I feel companies that need employees are suffering because of it," she said.

WRC, Nugent said, is "struggling" to find registered nurses and physical therapists.

"We don't get many applicants at all in those areas," she said.

Like other facilities, Nugent said, WRC must staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"People want day shift. They don't want to work nights, weekends and holidays," she said.

Therefore, WRC has gone outside traditional channels to find employees. "We have reached out to schools, but the COVID is still hurting us," Nugent said. "We can't get into many of them due to the restrictions.

"When people come in and interview, we are set up so that we can offer them a job that day."

According to Julie McCormick, who works in human resources at UPMC Northwest, the hospital has "a handful" of positions open for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, patient care technicians and monitor techs, along with entry level positions.

"We certainly make sure our patients are taken care of, but it helps to have an extra set of skilled hands," she said.

In an effort to find new employees, McCormick said she uses all avenues of advertisement, promoting UPMC's complete medical plan and competitive wages to potential employees.

"There is a national nursing shortage across the board, which is a big concern," she said. "Another thing is that the baby boomers are reaching retirement. They are cycling out of full-time world, but they also need some medical care."

McCormick said UPMC Northwest is "thrilled" Clarion University opened its bachelor of science in nursing program, and pointed out there are licensed practical nursing programs at Clarion County Career Center and at Venango Technology Center.

She also is exploring nontraditional methods of attracting potential employees.

"You will find me anywhere and everywhere to recruit," McCormick said. "Nurses are like gold. They are hard to find, but they are out there."

Drivers needed

Jenna McIntyre, who works in employee relations with McCauley Trucking in Brookville, was looking for people with a commercial driver's license and experience as a truck driver.

"The people we are looking for are hard to find," she said. "Because of insurance, we need experienced drivers. We get some people right out of driving school who want to work but we can't hire them. They have to want be long-distance drivers."

McIntyre said the money in trucking is driving distances, but that the company tries to get drivers home on the weekends.

"It seems some of these companies, especially those that need summer help," are hurting," she said.

McInTyre, too, blames the stimulus checks.

"The stimulus money increased unemployment benefits; keeping people from looking for work," she said.

An abundance of positions

Kristy Bryant, of Deer Creek Winery in Shippenville, also was at the job fair looking for employees - particularly staff for sales, cleaning, kitchen and festival.

"We go around to different festivals, wine walks and farmers markets, and we need staff to work those events," she said.

The winery, Bryant said, does banquets, retreats and receptions.

"During COVID, any of those services were restricted. But now that some of the restrictions are loosened, we have people wanting to get out and go on with their lives," she said.

Like many other companies, Deer Creek uses social media and JAZZ, a website.

What Bryant is finding is the same thing that other employers are discovering -- not everyone wants to work.

"It's hard to find people right now," she said.