Good Help is Hard to Find
While the labor market continues to post impressive gains, employers are forced to change their approach to finding top talent.
With disruptions to the global supply chain still a reality and record-high inflation top of mind for nearly everyone, the word “recession” has been thrown around a lot lately as uncertainty surrounding the U.S. economy is causing angst from Wall Street to Main Street.
But, one aspect that analysts are quick to point to in hopes of avoiding the “R” word is that the job market continues to post massive gains. Those positive strides are especially evident here in New Jersey where employment numbers remain on the rise and are nearing their pre-pandemic levels.
In fact, a July report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that New Jersey jobs are returning at a faster rate than the majority of the country. From June 2021 to June 2022, the state saw an increase of more than 207,000 jobs, equating to a 5.2% spike. That over-the-year change lagged behind only three other states: Nevada (6.6%), Texas (6.2%) and Georgia (5.4%).
Closer to home, unemployment rates in the tri-county region are some of the lowest in New Jersey, according to the most recent data released by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Updated figures show Burlington County at 2.8%, Camden County at 3.7% and Gloucester County at 3.3%.
That’s not to say that area employers aren’t facing challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. A quick search of local vacancies shows that many businesses may be struggling to fill open positions, as some job postings have lingered for months.
Christina Renna, president and CEO of Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, says there’s a variety of reasons contributing to the prolonged vacancies, whether it be applicants being unqualified for the positions they are applying for or just an overall lack of interest in certain jobs over others.
“Since COVID-19, employees do not want to settle for a job they do not enjoy, a job that is inflexible, or that does not provide advancement opportunities,” she says. “The pandemic changed the way the world views work and I do not see that changing any time soon.”
Jeffrey S. Swartz, executive director of the Camden County Workforce Development Board, likens the current labor situation to the world of real estate. “In real estate, they say it’s either a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. Right now, I view this as an employee’s market.”
Swartz reasons that today’s workers are no longer solely intrigued by higher pay or a better work/life balance, but instead are being driven by maximizing the total package of incentives being offered to them. That mindset has led many employers to find ways to get creative in an effort to make their companies more attractive to new hires.
“When people call about a job, the first thing they used to ask was how much does the job pay,” says Swartz. “That’s the way we used to look at things, but today it’s not just about the initial compensation, but rather the total package. Is this company offering me tuition reimbursement? Are they offering a 401K plan? In addition to a decent starting salary, are they offering me decent health care insurance?”
“Companies are changing their hiring practices, benefit packages and offering more flexibility in their schedules to find talent,” affirms Kelly West, executive director of the Burlington County Workforce Development Board.
“For those that are looking for a good job, now is a great time, as they are in the driver’s seat,” West continues, adding that her organization is working with several businesses on a daily basis to fill openings that offer great pay and great benefits.
Renna also agrees that those looking to make a career change are holding a lot of the cards these days. “Job seekers are in a position to seek out jobs that provide greater work/life balance, while also requesting higher salaries, competitive benefits and other fringe perks,” she says.
And so there’s now great competition amongst employers looking to pluck from the same talent pool and lure candidates away from one another. “It is currently a game of one-upmanship,” West says.
“From the employer’s perspective, they are identifying new and creative ways to keep the talent they currently have while still recruiting strong—whether it be more generous bonus structures, better benefit packages or simply higher wages,” Renna says.
On a localized level, several industries appear to be thriving and showing staying power. In Camden County, Swartz says his organization has identified several targeted industry sectors, including: health care; retail, hospitality and tourism; advanced manufacturing with an emphasis on food processing; transportation, distribution and logistics; and what Swartz refers to as FIRE—finance, insurance and real estate.
“These are industries where we feel the jobs are going to flourish and will continue to grow,” says Swartz.
Likewise, in Burlington County, West sees numerous opportunities in health care and manufacturing, as well as transportation and warehousing/distribution because of the county’s prime location in the northeast corridor and ample amount of industrial business parks.
And when you add in burgeoning industries like wind power and legalized cannabis, one can expect the opportunities to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, helping to further push New Jersey’s economy in a favorable direction.
“Overall, the economy in New Jersey has done very well over the last year and a half,” says Swartz. “Things are good here.”
For now, Renna expects South Jersey’s labor market to remain strong with “plentiful” opportunities, but cautions that employers will need to stay ahead of the pack if they want to find the right person for the job.
“At the end of the day, a quality candidate should be able to find a new opportunity if they do their due diligence and find a good professional fit for their skill set,” she says. “However, finding the right professional matches for the types of jobs that are available continues to be a challenge and employers are racing to outdo their competitors as it relates to overall compensation and benefits to attract top talent.
“Employers are hearing loud and clear that flexibility is the key.”