McLean County employers say they need more workers. Many of them were counting on the end of extended unemployment benefits from the federal government to get more people back into the workforce.
But job seekers at Bloomington-Normal say their reasons for returning to the workforce are now more complicated than that.
Lisa Taborn of Bloomington lost her restaurant job last year amid the height of COVID shutdowns. After being out of work for over a year, she said she was fed up with being stuck at home.
Taborn said she was grateful that the increase in unemployment benefits had helped her stay safe, but added that if it had not been for the threat of COVID-19, she would have looked for work. Much sooner.
“What makes it harder for me is that the pandemic won’t go away, so it scares you to go back to work, and now you see (the coronavirus cases) are coming back up, as the kids are getting sick and the teachers are getting sick. get sick, “Taborn said.” It’s kinda scary. “
Taborn was one of several job seekers who walked out of a job fair Tuesday at Eastland Mall in Bloomington.
The McLean County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event this week for 65 companies that have 1,800 jobs available.
Shane Goble was another job seeker at the fair. He worked in sales for a telecommunications company for 13 years when he lost his job in June 2020. He said the additional benefits “helped him tremendously”, but said staying home didn’t didn’t suit him.
“I’m not the type who doesn’t work. I have had a job since the day I was 16, ”Goble said. “I have been motivated to get a job all this time. It has been difficult with everything that has happened with COVID. “
Goble said he needs to help with distance learning for his three children. This left little time to accept a new job or even look for one. Now that his kids are back in class, Goble said he has time to look for a job.
Some who were forced out of the workforce took the time to explore new careers. Bloomington’s Devin Callahan occupied a hotel reception for five years until he was laid off late last year. He said he now wanted to find a job he was excited about.
“I’m looking for something that I can use my creative side on,” Callahan explained. “I’m starting to get bored of work and just want to be able to do something that makes me want to come to work. “
Callahan hasn’t found anything yet and he said he didn’t have the time or money to go back to school, adding that it was time to find something that will pay the bills.
Lisa Tayborn, Shane Goble and Devin Callahan have all said they are confident they will find work. Employers say if you want to work there are a lot of jobs there.
“We probably haven’t seen this level of competition in most of our 40 years in business,” said Marc Poirier, managing director of Abbey Investments in Bloomington.
Poirier said his staffing agency had nearly 100 open positions, spanning everything from industrial and warehouse to clerical and office work. He said some people will call to look for a job and find it elsewhere before the recruiting agency has a chance to get them into its system.
Poirier said competition in the job market has caused companies to pay more.
“Workers’ expectations have increased and, in response, many companies have had to increase their wages,” Poirier said. “The minimum wage is $ 11 an hour, but I don’t think one in 20 people would consider that right now, based on some of the research we’ve done. “
Poirier said Abbey Placements encourages companies to set entry-level wages at least $ 13 an hour and $ 15 for more labor-intensive work. He said it was too early to say whether the end of extended unemployment benefits will bring more people back to work, but he said job seekers seemed more serious now. They are no longer shadow employers.
“What we have seen is that the number of interviews has remained similar, but since the end of unemployment benefits a number of people who said they were interested and then disappeared, part of it ceased, “Poirier said.
McDonald’s prides itself on being “America’s Best First Job” and tries to make those jobs more attractive in a tough climate for employers. John Johns is responsible for the formation of 15 McDonald’s restaurants in McLean County. He said the “Golden Arches” saw a surge in the number of applicants when extended benefits ended earlier this month, but it is not clear whether the trend will continue.
“We’ve seen a significant increase this first week,” Johns said. “It has started to level out a bit recently, but we hope it will continue to increase as the month goes on.”
McDonalds just increased its minimum wage from $ 12 to $ 13 an hour. The company is also strengthening its social benefits, including assistance with tuition fees and paid vacation. Johns said McDonalds is looking to hire up to five additional employees at each of its 15 restaurants. He said that when jobs cannot be filled, it makes it more difficult for current staff.
“Our people are very resilient. They put up with a lot, especially right now, ”Johns said. “They don’t have adequate staff most days of the week and our people are scrambling their asses, and we are extremely grateful for everything they do. We try as much as possible to give them more help, because they deserve it. “
Some employers said they couldn’t afford to pay that much. Charlie Moore, CEO of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, said some companies have decided it’s not worth paying more – and they’ve cut hours and service instead.
“If you look at it from a business perspective, when they have to increase the cost of what they pay their employees and they look at their profit margin, are they better off (off) cutting their hours instead? than being open often? like we’ve gotten used to, ”Moore said.
Moore said he did not anticipate a large increase in the number of job seekers, noting that the county’s unemployment rate is low, at just under 5% – the lowest in the state. Moore said the chamber is keen to expand the workforce and find people who don’t appear in the employment data.
“What we want to try to do is find the stay-at-home parent who might be looking for opportunities (now) that the kids have gone back to school,” Moore said, adding the chamber provided bus service. from the State of Illinois and Wesleyan Universities of Illinois to the Career Fair to help students find jobs and internships.
Moore added that the chamber is also marketing jobs in Peoria, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield, where unemployment is higher.
Higher wages can make a difference in filling these jobs, even for those who are already in the workforce.
Christian Frazier of Bloomington does janitorial work in a grocery store. He came to the job fair looking for a better paying job and he thinks he has found it. “I got an interview for a janitor (job),” Frazier beamed. “They start at $ 16. I need this one.
Frazier said he expects to receive a recall by the end of the week.