Franklin County Labor Shortage

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As businesses began to reopen after pandemic shutdowns, many employers faced a unique dilemma: They had a lot of business, but not enough staff. A nationwide labor shortage has troubled small business owners, many of whom are still reeling from the economic impacts of COVID-19, and left local governments unsure of how to increase economic development in fields ranging from hospitality to education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the global workforce in unprecedented ways, said Paul Bean, executive director of the Franklin County Development Council. He believes that one of the most significant impacts of the pandemic on the labor pool is that it has caused many baby boomers to retire earlier than they expected, leaving companies without some of their oldest employees. More than 4 million Americans were laid off or quit their jobs between February 2020 and February 2021, according to the Pew Research Center, and in the future there simply aren’t enough people to replace them, a Bean said. People are having fewer children on average than in previous decades, which means fewer students and, ultimately, fewer potential employees. On top of that, many high school graduates are unable to attend college due to tuition fees, so industries that require higher degrees are expected to experience a labor shortage for years to come. . Bean says the Franklin County Development Council has worked on career development programs with local schools to teach students about potential career paths available to them after high school, whether or not they choose to go into. a traditional university. “There is more emphasis on internships and on-site learning to build that bridge between industry and the school system, as many kids don’t realize that there are great career opportunities without going to school. university, ”he said. For students who decide to go to college, several local businesses offer to pay full or partial tuition for employees: The Walmart Distribution Center in Ottawa offers to pay 100% of the tuition for full-time employees. if they attend one of the ten participating universities. But going to school and working full time is a lot, and many employees decide the stress just isn’t worth it.

Labor shortages have strained local economic development, and attracting new businesses to struggling places is like swimming upstream. “Not having a strong workforce is hurting us,” Bean said. Earlier this summer, Franklin County joined the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Rural Opportunity Zones, or ROZ, a program in which the Commerce Department will pay up to $ 3,000 in student loans each year for five years if they move and work in a specific county. This incentive could be particularly appealing to young workers in their twenties and thirties, who have seen a drastic increase in student debt. Companies are also offering incentives to new hires: AdventHealth in Ottawa is offering a $ 20,000 signing bonus to new nurses after large numbers of healthcare professionals quit their jobs during the pandemic. But some small businesses do not have the capital to implement incentives such as tuition fees and paid tuition fees, and many of these businesses are the ones the community relies on for some of its needs. more basic – like education.

As students return to in-person learning, schools are struggling to find enough teachers to staff their classrooms. The challenges of online learning combined with the health risks of teaching in a classroom full of potentially unvaccinated students have proven too great for many educators. For the first time, the Ottawa Job Vacancy Report counts multiple people for the first time, Superintendent Ryan Cobbs said. And it’s not just the teachers, either: “We’ve always struggled with guards and transportation, but this year is exponentially worse,” Cobbs said. As of their first day of school on August 16, the $ 290 schools had three unfilled teacher positions and several open para-educator positions. When it comes to solutions, Cobbs places his hope in future educators: he hopes to hire new college graduates in the winter.

Bean says things will be “pretty tough” in the country’s workforce for at least the next six months. In Franklin County, he thinks things need to change in order to restore economic prosperity. “We need more housing. We need to attract people to our community. It helps you build a workforce, and we have a serious housing shortage, especially multi-family housing. Multi-family spaces like townhouses and apartments tend to attract young people who are still in the early stages of their careers, which local businesses and the county hope to attract.

What further complicates things for companies is the fact that many people are just plain tired of working for less than a living wage, and although some companies are increasing their pay levels, this has not been enough to attract them. people towards the employment society considered as such. essential during the height of the pandemic.

Ottawa Herald reporter Greg Mast contributed to this story.


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