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Staffing, Recruiting, and the Maryland Unemployment Stimulus

As business partners, we are facing an enemy that may be equally as threatening to our livelihoods as COVID-19… bringing our people back to work. The $600 boost to weekly unemployment benefits will continue through July 31. For the next two and a half months, the government will pay your full-time employees an extra $15 an hour to sit at home. Forget the health risks of reopening the economy; there are also financial risks for many Americans. According to the Labor Department, the average weekly payment to a laid-off worker is approximately $978, which is $21 more than what fifty percent of full-time workers earned each week in the first quarter of 2020. This data suggests that we may not see the recruiting benefits of the high unemployment rate until August. The problem is that you need to return to standard operations now.

The struggle we may face is brought to light with the short term call center project we are currently staffing. We needed over 750 applicants, to internally interview around 200, just to place 21 active employees. We have this client that is one of the few companies experiencing a hiring surge right now. It is a great company that has been progressive in implementing a protocol to keep its employees safe. The office is centrally located in Baltimore City. The pay is comparable to other call centers in the area. The project is short term, but the position presents employees with the opportunity to be selected for work on larger projects within the company. Pre COVID, there would have been fewer applicants and a higher success rate of identifying the right candidate. Do applicants fear COVID, or are they finding it more lucrative not to work?

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that the talent pool is rich, and I still believe that is the case. The caveat is that we need to do more to make our positions appealing. A (Jim) Burch-ism is that companies need to create environments and opportunities that engage employees and make them want to stay. That is true now more than ever. Today’s shelf-life of an employee is short because they are searching for the right environment to fit their needs. If you want to retain employees, you need to focus on building your environment. This idea also displays the necessity to avoid bargain shopping for talent. The low bid model should, at the very least, be altered to include performance.

This is the concept in which our flagging department was built. After discussing the pains of several of our valued clients in this industry, we saw a major problem in the compensation of these workers. We knew the only way to be successful in this market was to build a higher caliber of traffic control flaggers. We accomplished this by increasing the wage and enticing people to choose this as an employment choice over other industrial positions. Our clients see the value in not price shopping, and every year we work on improving our model to reward them for their dedication to our partnership.

Yes, there is an additional complication of this pandemic outside of the impact of stay at home orders on businesses. Unemployment benefits are surpassing the wages of laid-off workers, compared to the 45 percent of an employee’s pay it replaced in 2019. Solving a problem like this excites me, and is a lot of the reason I dedicate my life to the staffing industry. We have developed and continue to improve on a strategy that helps us differentiate between an applicant and an applicant that wants to work. We are excited to share this process with you and work together to reopening the state.

Matt Sarant is a proud member of the Kennedy Services family. Kennedy Services is one of Maryland’s oldest independent, woman-owned staffing services, located in the heart of Baltimore City. Kennedy Services continues to partner with businesses to support their growing staffing needs. We remain open and are working hard for our essential workers, as well as people without jobs.