As unemployment lowers, hiring woes grow

With unemployment at its lowest level in almost five decades, what’s good for job seekers is causing headaches for employers. And if history is a guide, things could get worse.

This is becoming a familiar refrain — according to the September Jobs Report released Oct. 5 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.7 percent — the lowest level since December 1969. Hopefully, however, things don’t proceed in quite the same way they did back then.

Following at 3.5 percent unemployment rate in December ’69, the economy went into an 11-month recession, albeit one of the mildest on record, ending the second-longest U.S. economic expansion ever and resulting in a 6.1 percent unemployment rate just a year later.

While low unemployment is fantastic news for our economy and job seekers, it underscores the ongoing talent shortage that employers are facing today.

In Madison, where the unemployment rate is well below the national average at 2.3 percent, benefits and perks have become the most effective method for attracting and retaining skilled workers.

“With the rising popularity of unlimited paid time off, flexible work schedules, compressed workweeks, and telecommuting, more companies locally are adopting new policies and technology to accommodate employees and implement these options,” notes Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager for staffing firm Robert Half in Madison. “On the other hand, companies that have been hesitant to offer these work-life balance opportunities are having an especially tough time hiring right now.”

Perks don’t have to be budget busting to have a positive effect on attraction and retention. Madison’s reputation as a bike-friendly city is paving the way for companies to accommodate workers who bike to the office. According to Truckenbrod, more local businesses are offering indoor bike storage. Some of the real retention trendsetters are even providing perks like “Popcorn Fridays” and making their offices 100 percent pet friendly, complete with designated outdoor pet areas.

“We’re also seeing lower turnover and higher retention rates at companies that take the time to survey their workers and respond effectively to those results,” explains Truckenbrod. “Employees like to feel heard and to know that their suggestions and requests are being seriously considered.”

What’s driving hiring?

So, what’s the hiring landscape look like in the fourth quarter of 2018 and on into early 2019?

Seasonally, the fourth quarter is big time for retail, notes Truckenbrod. Large players in the retail space here in Madison will be hiring thousands of temporary workers to staff their distribution centers and administrative teams.

“The holidays will also be a top driver in the coming months, with many companies looking for temporary professionals to cover absences while employees are on vacation,” Truckenbrod says.

Additional drivers for hiring in Madison through the end of 2018 include preparation for open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act health care exchanges, as well as for the 2019 tax season.

“With more positions than people to fill them in Madison, many passive job seekers who are already employed are jumping ship for better opportunities, better pay, and better perks,” cautions Truckenbrod. “To recruit and retain workers, it’s important to benchmark salaries locally and pay a fair market rate, especially since 46 percent of workers think they’re underpaid.

In Madison, health care, technology, manufacturing, and nonprofit are the top industries for hiring currently, according to Truckenbrod.

Additionally, more IT startups are flocking to Madison, while manufacturing is experiencing a high turnover rate.

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Say ‘boo’ to ghosting

With the current job market favoring job seekers, Truckenbrod says a continuing and even increasing trend is “ghosting.” Essentially, the job candidate turns into a “ghost” and vanishes at some point during the hiring process.

As for why ghosting has become so common with candidates this year, Truckenbrod says some job seekers are considering multiple offers and don’t want to deal with the discomfort of turning down a role, so they avoid delivering that rejection.

“The bottom line is that even though it’s currently a candidate’s market, it’s important to always be professional,” advises Truckenbrod. “Madison is a very close-knit community. Word can and does get around — people talk. Ghosting can affect your job search, now or in the future. You never know when someone you didn’t take a job with will be the hiring manager or face of the company at the next job where you apply. Make sure when you’re networking that you’re putting your best foot forward.”

What to do instead of ghosting:

  • Courtesy from both parties is essential. Both the hiring manager and candidate should set expectations from the outset to prevent lack of responsiveness from either party.
  • To do this, ensure that there is buy in from both sides. Try to stay in touch by laying out the hiring process and a tentative timeline.
  • Candidates, ask for constructive feedback to keep the conversation flowing. That way, if you don’t get the job, you may have insight into why. Conversely, if you are no longer interested in a position, respectfully let the employer know.
  • Nobody likes to hear bad news, but the other person will likely understand. Your response doesn’t have to be expansive. For example, job seekers could say, “Thank you for bringing me in for an interview. I appreciate your interest in working with me but have decided to pursue another opportunity.”
  • Always remain professional. Continue to keep communication lines open, and if you do happen to ghost someone, acknowledge and apologize.

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