Hiring sale: Job availability on the rise

bGlobeBy Katie Johnston | The Boston Globe

Just how tight is the job market? Hollister Staffing is so busy finding workers for employers that the agency is looking to beef up its own staff — and is networking practically around the clock. But so far, Hollister has only managed to hire a handful of the 13-15 recruiters and sales people it needs to add to its 50-person roster this year. This despite the fact that the company has recently added benefits such as mindfulness training and guided meditation led by the CEO, and offers the chance to earn “an unlimited amount of money,” according to Mark Hollister, the company’s executive director of engagement.

“A lot of people have done OK in the last few years and they’re in a good position,” Hollister said. “It is proving to take a lot more than a salary bump to get somebody to move.”

The number of job openings across the country hit a 16-year high in April, at 6 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statisticis, and “Now Hiring” signs are popping up all over. But with the national unemployment rate at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent, and fewer people switching jobs, hiring has fallen, suggesting that employers haven’t been able to find enough qualified workers to fill their needs.

In Massachusetts, where the unemployment rate is lower than the nation’s and businesses are expanding left and right, the worker shortage is particularly acute — ranging from low-wage home health aides to mid-salary engineers to highly paid surgeons.

“The evidence is definitely becoming quite clear: We’re darn near if not past full employment in Massachusetts,” said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “We’re running out of employable people.”

At Lids at the South Shore Plaza, manager Nelson Curet recently held an open interview session – part of a nationwide effort by the athletic gear retailer — in the hopes of attracting a full-time and part-time manager, as well as “part-timers, as many as we can get.” One of the big problems with attracting workers are the variable hours, Curet said, which are determined by a software program that creates schedules based on sales from the previous year. Curet is up-front about how widely the hours can vary, telling applicants: “You can have five hours one week and you can have 20 hours the next week. Are you comfortable with that?”

Often, they aren’t — especially when there are so many jobs to choose from.

Down the hall at The Walking Company shoe store, which has been looking for a store manager for two months, among other open positions, higher-ups have taken to making “cold calls” at other stores in an attempt to hire away workers, according to the store’s assistant manager. A few doors down at Dellaria Salons, a front desk position that was open for six months was recently filled, but the salon is still in need of an assistant and several stylists, said operational manager Jackie Donovan. It’s not that people don’t apply, she said, it’s that many of them don’t want to work hard — and don’t last.

“It’s tough to find people who care,” said Donovan, who started with the company as a part-time receptionist early last year.

One factor contributing to the worker shortage is the lack of wage growth. Declining unemployment usually leads to higher pay, but average earnings have increased 2.5 percent nationwide over the past year. When inflation is taken into account, the increase was only 0.4 percent.

This tepid growth is not enough to pull people back into the labor force who might be enticed by higher wages, such as stay-at-home moms or discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs, said Northeastern University economist Alicia Sasser Modestino. The number of people working or actively looking for work, known as the labor force participation rate, has been declining over the past decade and has leveled off in the past few years. In Massachusetts, the rate has increased slightly in the past year.

“You need a stronger wage growth to really entice those workers to really come off the sidelines,” Modestino said.

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