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Employers turning to job fair to fill openings

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey is one of several local employers participating in an upcoming job fair sponsored by the state’s Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Pictured, Nick Bergeron, left, and Chris Bergeron load a truck with fireworks for a display. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey is one of several local employers participating in an upcoming job fair sponsored by the state's Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey is one of several local employers participating in an upcoming job fair sponsored by the state's Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey is one of several local employers participating in an upcoming job fair sponsored by the state's Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Atlas Fireworks of Jaffrey is one of several local employers participating in an upcoming job fair sponsored by the state's Employment Security and Business and Economic Affairs divisions. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/17/2021 1:39:45 PM

As the economy looks to rebound from the last year-plus of shutdowns and restrictions put forth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and organizations now have set out to try to fill positions.

The downturn in the state’s economy forced thousands across New Hampshire to apply for unemployment since March of 2020 and according to recent numbers there are signs that the rate of unemployment is trending in the right direction. According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – for the week ending May 8 – there were 1,274 new claims filed in New Hampshire, equating to a 44% drop from the numbers ending May 1, which had an increase of 23% the previous week. State continuing claims during the week ending May 1 also fell, but just by seven claims, to 19,133.

But as Steve Pelkey, owner of Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group, Inc. in Jaffrey, attempts to fill his vacancies for what is his busiest time of year, he isn’t seeing a rush from those unemployed to reenter the workforce.

“This is the worst job market I’ve seen in my 35 years of owning a business,” Pelkey said. “We used to have kids lined up from high school or kids from college coming back for the summer. Last year and this year, it’s just nothing.”

In an effort to hopefully line up some potential employees for summer jobs, Pelkey signed on to participate in the virtual Monadnock Region Job Fair on Wednesday, May 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., held in conjunction with New Hampshire Employment Security. It is the second to last of the 10 virtual job fairs held this month spanning every corner of the state to aid unemployed Granite Staters looking for work.

For Pelkey, it is the first job fair he has ever taken part in and it was done so out of the greatest necessity.

“We just don’t know what else to do. We can’t get anybody,” he said. “We need to have seven or eight seasonal people just at our main warehouse facility to do our normal business in the summer. We can’t even get someone to show up and work at a register or stock shelves,” adding that he needs anywhere from 12 to 15 for his four retail locations. Numbers for fireworks show workers are also down, Pelkey said.

“The business is there. We just need to be able to have the staff,” he said. “I just don’t know what the answer is.”

Ana Gonzalez, director of human resources for Monadnock Family Services, said she has participated in a number of job fairs this spring because “we are in need,” and will be part of Wednesday’s virtual fair.

“We are not considered a shortage area of mental health workers, but we can’t seem to find mental health workers,” Gonzalez said. She said at some of the job fairs she has attended, there has not been one single person interested in talking about MFS’s open positions.

“And I’m not the only employer that’s like that,” Gonzalez said.

While COVID has not helped the situation, Gonzalez said even before the pandemic New Hampshire was in a workforce shortage.

“We are paying competitive wages and we have an incredible benefits package,” Gonzalez said. “And we’re trying everything we can to get the word out there about who we are and what we do.”

Being unable to find adequate staffing over the last year has forced Pelkey and many other employees to work long hours, sometimes seven days a week.

“Those of us that are small business owners, we’ve been in survival mode since March 2020,” Pelkey said. “And at some point you’re going to wear everybody out.” He said he has contacted Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, “but they just don’t understand the magnitude of the problem.”

Pelkey said it’s difficult to have people walk in the door looking for work let alone get to the hiring stage. He has tried everything – from social media to job site platforms. And when people do apply, many don’t respond to interview requests.

Pelkey said the extra benefits offered through unemployment have made it hard for employers looking to fill openings.

“The reality is a lot of people can make $17.75 an hour to do nothing,” Pelkey said. “They just have enabled this environment with what I call the COVID crutch.”

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that New Hampshire will discontinue the $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits enhancement before it is due to expire on Labor Day, and it might end in the next few weeks, Sununu said.

The expectation is that without the added benefits more people will need to return to the workforce, something Pelkey would welcome with open arms.

“I’ve never had to find people,” Pelkey said. “We’ve always paid reasonably well,” adding someone with no experience can expect to start at $13.50 -$14 an hour, well above New Hampshire’s $7.25 minimum wage.

On April 22, Sununu announced that on May 23, those collecting unemployment will need to resume searching for work while collecting benefits. Although if an individual is unable to find work, it does mean not they will lose their unemployment benefits.

“Our economy has come roaring back and with New Hampshire leading the nation in vaccinations, it’s an appropriate time to resume the requirement to look for work next month,” Sununu said at the announcement. “This return to our traditional, more normalized system is a sign that we are getting back to normal, and I would like to thank the team at Employment Security for their efforts in opening up access to job seekers and employers.”

Pekey said the requirement that those unemployed show that they are actively looking for work might not be good enough. The real solution will be when the added benefits are taken away, forcing people to be serious about resuming employment.

At the May 26 job fair, employers and job seekers will be able to virtually engage via live video or text. Resumes can be uploaded and sent directly to the company representative while you are talking. And what would be considered a success for Pelkey?

“If I can get one or two people I’d probably be excited,” he said of the job fair.

Gonzalez said that while COVID hasn’t helped with recruiting employees, it has increased the demand for the services that MFS provides.

“And we just need additional people who can help us with that,” she said.

Even when things change on the unemployment benefits and requirement front, Gonzalez wonders what will be different from the pre-pandemic landscape that was mired in a workforce shortage.

“Why do we have a workforce shortage?” Gonzalez said. “And how can we correct it?” One thing would be to incentivize students to remain in New Hampshire both for school and to begin their careers.

“Because once those kids leave, rarely do they come back,” Gonzalez said.

Local companies participating include MilliporeSigma, New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Ocean State Job Lot, among many others.

There is no cost to participate in the virtual hiring event and those interested can visit https://business.nh.gov/nhesjobfair/ to register up to 24 hours prior to the event.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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