Sarah Wasinger: Workforce: The new pandemic

Sarah Wasinger
Sarah Wasinger

Over the past several months, the primary topic of conversation between Chamber staff and members has been workforce. Businesses in Ellis County have shared numerous concerns, including:

• Businesses are reducing their hours of operation because they cannot staff multiple shifts. In some instances, they are even closing temporarily because they lack enough help. This trend also has a substantial, negative impact on the sales tax revenue for Kansas as a whole and Ellis County.

• The unemployed do not want to come back to work because they are making more money on unemployment through the American Rescue Plan.

• Employers are increasing their wages to compete with other employers to fill their vacancies. This, coupled with significant cost increases across all industries, is putting businesses in unprecedented circumstances.

• Workers in dozens of retail locations and restaurants are quitting or not showing up for shifts when asked to work on weekends and holidays.

In the April 2021 Kansas Labor Market Report, Ellis County’s unemployment rate dropped from 2.4 percent in March to 1.9 percent in April.

As of April 2021, Ellis County’s labor force totaled 17,131 people. Of that total, 16,806 are employed, which means only 325 are currently unemployed.

With the significant need for workforce to fill those vacancies, where will that help come from if the unemployment rate is so low? To answer that question, we must start with a question. How are unemployment figures calculated in Kansas? 

“The unemployment rate is calculated as the number of unemployed divided by the labor force,” according to the department.

Keep in mind, retirees and students not working, disabled persons not working, persons not working and discouraged from seeking work, and volunteers working for religious/charitable organizations are not included in this equation.

In a letter written to Sen. Rick Billinger, Rep. Ken Rahjes, Rep. Barb Wasinger, and Rep. Troy Waymaster on May 12, The Chamber in Hays urged Kansas legislators to cease the state’s participation in the American Rescue Plan, specifically with the additional unemployment benefits.

According to CBS News, 23 states have withdrawn from the American Rescue Plan, which contains a weekly $300 supplemental unemployment benefit for qualified workers through the end of September.

The picture is clear. Workforce is an issue that must be addressed – but how?

Mike Henke, business training consultant, shared these resources with the Western Kansas Human Resource Management Association to help local employers recruit workforce:

• Post on www.kansasworks.com as this site includes all job seekers who have filed for unemployment. Employers need to post on multiple sites: WorkHays.com, Nex-tech Classifieds, FHSU Handshake, College Central, Indeed.com, etc. Post positions on Facebook and LinkedIn; allow hard-copy applications for jobs that do not require computer experience;

• Contact with students/alumni from specific programs at colleges/technical schools; participating in their career days and career fairs;

• Offer internships or summer jobs to local students to encourage them to return after college;

• Recruit veterans and those leaving the military; participate in military recruitment events;

• Using retirees for part-time work;

• Employee incentives/bonuses for recruiting new employees;

• Recruit individuals with disabilities;

• Recruit Hispanics (www.hispanic-jobs.com) and other international groups;

• Promote recruitment to family and friends;

• Utilize Registered Apprenticeship Program - https://ksapprenticeship.org/

Now that we have resources for employers identified, let us investigate connecting students who are not currently in the workforce, retirees who might want to have more disposable income, or folks who might be looking into working a part-time job over the summer.

If any of these categories describe you, let KANSASWORKS assist you as a job seeker. They can collaborate with you to navigate through job search, build resumes, and share other helpful tips and tricks for ascertaining an interview. Appointments for these services can be scheduled by calling 785-625-5654.

Additional work must be done to attract qualified workforce to Hays. This work is not something that can be done in a short timeframe. Until then, The Chamber in Hays urges all residents to pay attention to the help wanted signs. If you know of anyone who would make a good fit at any of those establishments, please talk to  them about the work opportunities that exist. You may just save a small business in Ellis County from closing its doors for good.

As patrons of these businesses, please keep in mind that our business owners have had an unprecedented year with more challenges than ever before. When going out to restaurants, remember that their staff are likely pulling a double shift just so you can have that dining experience.

Please remember that before leaving any unkind reviews and offer up appreciation. If that item you must have is out of stock, please remember that they are doing their best to keep the shelves stocked as the supply chain has been debilitated.

Work with the location to place an order so those dollars still stay local. The more we work together, the sooner we can address the workforce pandemic. Stay Ellis County strong!

*A special thank you to Phyllis LaShell, workforce response coordinator at KANSASWORKS, for sharing multiple resources for this letter to the editor.

Sarah Wasinger, president/CEO The Chamber in Hays