What is causing the workforce shortage? Some Springfield Job Fair employers share their thoughts

Published: May. 17, 2023 at 6:40 PM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 7:09 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - While the unemployment rate in the Springfield metro area is low at around 2.3 percent, another piece of data better explains why a continuing workforce shortage is also lowering. And that’s a problem.

It’s called the labor force participation rate.

“The labor force participation rate describes what fraction of adults would like to actually get a job,” said Darren Page, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at Drury University. “Early in the 2000′s it was about 70 percent, and there’s been a steady decline to get down to the 63 percent we have now.”

So that’s the reason you still see the “Now Hiring” signs all around the area. Fewer people are choosing to enter the workforce as older workers are retiring and younger ones are seeking alternatives to traditional jobs.

Against that backdrop, the Springfield Job Center held a multi-industry Job Fair on Thursday with around 40 employers seeking to fill open positions.

“We have as many openings as we can fill if we could find qualified candidates,” said Lance Garrett, the Director of Pre-Construction for the Rich Kramer Construction company.

“We have about 50 openings right now, but that changes all the time,” said Shelby Blankenship, the HR Director for Buckhorn, a division of Myers Industries that makes containers and pallets for companies worldwide. “We’re always recruiting. It never stops.”

And why are fewer people seeking traditional jobs like the ones at her business?

“Well, a lot of people during COVID worked online, and now unless an organization is offering that online job type of atmosphere, that’s a reason why people are turning away from positions,” Blankenship said. “People tend to look for jobs with quick pay and more convenience, and that’s just not the world we live in.”

“We are seeing things we’ve never seen before,” said Josh Clair, the Branch Manager for QPS Employment Group, a local hiring agency that not only finds employees for companies but helps find ways to retain them.

“The mindset has definitely shifted,” he pointed out about today’s job-seeking environment. “I won’t call it laziness, but the hard labor, physical-type work is kind of gone. I think people are looking for an easier kind of work.”

“It is a struggle to get that workforce from the digital side back to actually doing work on a job site,” Garrett agreed.

Despite increased efforts from the state government and local trade unions and companies to interest young people in the increased pay and benefits available for workers in construction, manufacturing, HVAC, plumbing, welding, and other trade-related careers.

“You have to have an aptitude for wanting to work outside,” Garett said of his business. “In the construction industry, it’s hot and cold and windy. That can be a real struggle for many people who don’t want to be in that environment. And many of them don’t realize the opportunities and money they can make at these jobs.”

Amber Latham, one of the younger job seekers at the event, understands why so many of her generation are looking at alternatives.

“Many people have stress and anxiety about getting out in the work world,” she pointed out. “So it’s intriguing to work in your comfort zone at home.”

She also explained that job seekers are rearranging their priorities.

“I’m looking for advancement opportunities and a work-life balance,” Latham said. “Money is important, but I’ve learned that money isn’t everything. Family is important to me as well.”

So with this major shift in how increasing numbers of people are taking a different view on where and how they’d like to work, is there any chance it will eventually swing back the other way?

“No,” Clair answered with his personal opinion. “Because once we’ve started down this path where everything is online and you can do everything at the tip of your fingers, you can’t go back. There are more companies placing more emphasis online, and that’s just the way the world is going. That mindset is not going to change back to what it was. What you would have to do is to somehow give young people the passion for that older type of work. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

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