Transformation Network sign

A sign promoting immediate job starts through the employment agency Transformation Network is posted outside the Ashland County Department of Job and Family Services. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first 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.

ASHLAND — A quick search on OhioMeansJobs or Indeed will pull up hundreds of job openings in the Ashland area, across multiple sectors.

Driving down Claremont Avenue toward Main Street reveals signs taped to windows and posted on curbs that read “Help Wanted,” “Now Hiring” and “$100 Signing Bonus.”

Burger King job sign

A sign advertising $14 wages at Burger King is posted on Claremont Avenue next to Ashland University.  

Within the downtown area, businesses are also searching for workers.

The South Street Grille, a restaurant in downtown Ashland, is trying to fill five to seven positions, said owner Carly Little. Little has never seen a pre-pandemic staffing, as she opened the restaurant in November 2020. 

However, Little said she has had more difficulty hiring in the past few months. 

“We have a great crew that’s been with us since day one,” Little said. “Those ones are awesome. We just need more of them.”

Factories cannot find sufficient staffing. The Mansfield Plumbing facility in Ashland has seen a mass exodus of employees and few coming in to replace those who left, said vice president of sales and marketing Phil Cunningham.

Schools are also struggling. Ashland City Schools has had difficulty finding substitute teachers, bus drivers and custodial staff, assistant superintendent Steve Paramore said. 

While some local businesses are receiving applicants to their job postings, many say they are not receiving the same number of applicants nor the same number of qualified applicants as they had before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

So, where are the workers?

During the height of the pandemic, several Ashland County employers cited health concerns as reasons why workers left.

Peter Stefaniuk, director of Ashland County Department of Job and Family Services, as well as Amy Daubenspeck, director of operations at the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, said Ashland’s service industry lost much of its workforce. Food service, transportation and other such front-facing roles left workers at increased risk of infection, Daubenspeck said.

Some have attributed a lack of response to available jobs to pandemic-era federal unemployment benefits.

Both Daubenspeck and Stefaniuk said they hope the end of such benefits will result in more job openings being filled. 

Ohioans were required to resume weekly work-search activities as part of future applications for unemployment payments beginning May 23, and Ohio ended pandemic-era federal unemployment programs on June 26. 

It is too early to tell whether removed pandemic-era benefits will have a long-term impact on employment. Jobs have remained difficult to fill in places where jobless benefits were cut, indicating that there is more at play. 

There is no clear nor single explanation for the difficulty that some employers are having in hiring, according to Ashland-area employers, job seekers, leaders and many economists.

As businesses open to pre-pandemic levels and unemployment benefits are removed, a disconnect between what employers are offering and what employees want remains.

This series will explore the many explanations, including the reassessment of work standards as well as turnover rates and retention challenges faced by local businesses. 

It will also delve into what other areas — nearby counties, states and countries — have tried to address the aforementioned reasons for an apparent workforce shortage. 

Coming Tuesday: The workforce has reassessed work. More people have voluntarily quit their jobs than ever before, and not all people who lost jobs are seeking new ones.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.