EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series that will explore the reassessment of work standards as well as turnover rates and retention challenges faced by local businesses. It will delve into what nearby counties, states and countries have tried to address the apparent workforce shortage. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here.
ASHLAND — While the pandemic redefined work for many, changes in the available workforce also reflected another problem — the aging out of workers.
Major industries in Ashland have seen spikes in retirements and employee retention challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phil Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing at Mansfield Plumbing, said retirements increased sharply at the company last year.
The Mansfield Plumbing facility in Ashland could not replace workers at the rate they were leaving, Cunningham said, not only because of a lack of job interest but because it takes approximately six months to train new hires.
Cunningham attributes at least some of the current issue to a workforce gap from baby boomers retiring.
The Baby Boom Generation, those born from 1946 to 1964, make up around 41 million workers in the United States, or over a third of the workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. Additionally, the oldest among the generation were staying in the labor force in 2019 at the highest annual rate for people their age in more than half a century.
Mansfield Plumbing has also had issues with employee retention, Cunningham said.
“A lot of people come in, they work for two weeks and then leave,” he said. “We’ve never seen that kind of turnover.”
The company, which makes toilets, has facilities in Perrysville, and Henderson, Texas. All facilities saw retirements and consequent hiring challenges, Cunningham said.
Another major industry in Ashland, healthcare, has seen turnover problems too, said ShaNa Benner, director of resident services at Lutheran Village Assisted Living.
Specifically, nurse’s assistants have been hard to come by, even before the pandemic. The assisted living facility has also had difficulty hiring LPN charge nurses, both during and before the COVID-19 pandemic, Benner said.
In the past couple of years, Benner has noticed problems with people not sticking with positions long-term and, initially, not showing up for interviews or returning calls after hiring conversations.
The South Street Grille, located in downtown Ashland, has struggled with job seekers not showing up for scheduled interviews or to work once hired, said owner Carly Little.
Transformation Network in Ashland, which offers temp-to-hire, direct-hire staffing and retention programs, has faced issues with people not showing up for interviews or for their first day of employment, director of operations Kelly Smith said.
Overall, Transformation Network’s placements dropped approximately 50% during the pandemic. While placements are now rising, she said they have not reached pre-pandemic numbers.
Leadership in nearby Knox County believes housing might also be complicating the employer-employee disconnect.
A Knox Area Development Foundation study released in early 2021 revealed demand has outpaced the supply of homes in Knox County.
“There’s just no housing in Knox County. So when businesses come to town and they tour across the street and they say ‘I’d really like to come here but where are my workers going to live?’ That’s a real question,” said Jeff Gottke, president of ADF. “If we can help to solve some of the housing problems, we can import some workers. They kind of mesh together.”
Ashland has also seen a need for more housing in recent years, specifically rental properties and affordable housing. Several companies plan to build housing in the area — including Hess and Clark property andUnion Lofts.
A trend of people getting their driver’s licenses later in life may also be impacting who is likely to fill part-time, low-wage roles that have openings.
“There appears to be a trend of students getting their driver’s licenses later and later in life,” said Sean McCutcheon, a Knox County career navigator who matches graduating high school seniors with manufacturing and healthcare opportunities.
Many students he has worked with cited not having a driver’s license as a key obstacle to employment, he said.
Other areas of the country, such as Seattle, Washington and Detroit, Michigan, have seen teens delaying getting drivers licenses as well.
Programs in Northeast Ohio have tried to connect youth to businesses that are seeking help, specifically through partnering with local schools. But McCutcheon said simply connecting youth with employers was not enough, citing driving barriers, a lack of soft skills and follow-up, among other challenges.
Coming Thursday: What are other areas — nearby counties, states and countries — doing to address a lack of response to available jobs?