You want us to work for you?

You’d better be offering good pay & benefits, plenty of flexibility

Friday, September 17, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 38
By Joe Morris

Hiring employees used to be a fairly straightforward affair. A company posted its openings online through its own website, ran ads and possibly engaged a staffing agency or recruiter. It was similarly easy for job seekers, who prowled postings on their own, or retained professional help to find the best match for their talents.

As with much else in a post-COVID landscape, that process has become much more complex for both sides. From a financial standpoint, it’s about leverage: Employers, especially those who are seeking people to fill unskilled or low-wage jobs, are struggling. That’s because would-be employees are seeking more money, especially if those positions involve exposure to the public while Delta and other possible COVID variants rage.

There’s also the political angle, with debates of additional and/or extended unemployment benefits. Depending on who’s being asked, they should be extended to help people ease back into the workforce or they are an impediment to people actively pursuing work.

Knox downtown retailers tap into workforce down the street

What would a restaurant or retail shop say to thousands of potential employees nearby? Come on over, in the case of downtown Knoxville, where the Downtown Knoxville Alliance is helping connect city-center jobs with the plethora of talent across the way at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus.

The alliance has put together a list of opportunities on its website ( for those seeking the flexibility and convenience of working in the city center, pointing out that the jobs (and their flexible schedules) are walkable or a free trolley ride away from campus.

“There are multiple ways to work in this nearby district, including retail, hospitality and restaurant positions,” says Michele Hummel, executive director. “The ample job openings at established and new businesses show the strength of the downtown business recovery as more people are exploring and visiting. We want to give a boost to all of the great businesses that are hiring and invite job seekers, especially those returning to Knoxville for the school year, to apply.”

And then there are the intangibles, which also affect the bottom line of everyone involved: Benefits.

For example, many workers want flexible scheduling options and some assistance with child care expenses – an issue before COVID, child care has exploded as a problem as day care centers and other options for working parents have been sluggish to bounce back after prolonged shutdowns.

Now factor in the remote-work debate. Many employees, after 18 months at home, are quite happy to forgo long commutes and other elements they see as detracting from productivity.

Their employers, on the other hand, see expensive office space sitting idle and, in many cases, a diminishing return on investment in personnel who they feel are not as efficient as they might be in an in-person setting. There, various issues could be addressed by rounding up team members on the fly versus negotiating several calendars for an opening when everyone can make a Zoom or Teams call.

Manufacturing, logistics evolution

It all adds up to a complicated scenario, one that’s changing how hiring for, and applying to, jobs is going to be done going forward, particularly in large-scale arenas such as manufacturing and logistics/warehouse work, says Rodney Przybylinski, Nashville branch manager at Hire Dynamics, which employs around 11,000 people daily at more than 1,500 client locations and has almost 50 locations across the Southeast.

“Everyone out there has a job available to some extent, whether they’re looking for one person or 100 people,” Przybylinski says. “I’d say right now the majority of our conversations are around pay. What is a company paying relative to what the cost is for someone to consider that job? That drives a second conversation, which is around what are employers going to provide their workforce, understanding that what was working five years ago, or even two years ago pre-COVID, isn’t working now, nor will it likely work in the future.”

Hire Dynamics spends much of its time connecting job seekers with employers in the manufacturing and logistics world, which Przybylinski describes as verticals in which there will always be a steady need for workers due to turnover and the necessity of getting products in and out the door.

Music City scores top 5 spot in U.S. labor market ranking

The LaborIQ Index recently released a ranking of top-performing job markets, and Nashville scored highly.

LaborIQ reports the U.S. labor market “has made substantial ground recouping 17 million of the 22.4 million jobs lost during the pandemic, but the recovery has varied significantly based on location and economic performance.”

Its proprietary LaborIQ Index identifies and tracks 10 key performance indicators that best measure and rank a local economy’s performance.

These indicators or variables are present in every market and represent the greatest drivers of a market’s economic progress or decline.

For August, its top five markets were:

1. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas
2. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona
3. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
4. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin
5. Denver, Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado.

Nashville reentered the top of the LaborIQ Index at No. 4, based on strong population growth which is fueling job creation, according to Labor IQ.

The Nashville area has been ranked in the Top 10 for four consecutive months, as compared to No. 46 a year ago.

Right now, for instance, he says his team is seeing significantly more applicants wanting to know just how locked in shift schedules are. At the agency’s recent “HirePalooza” to fill a few hundred jobs over what’s expected to be a busy holiday season, that was the question on every applicant’s mind.

“A company may have always provided set shifts: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Now some of them are providing more part-time hours and are offering a flex schedule where someone can sign up to work the days they can and not have it be held against them if they didn’t sign up for Wednesday because that’s a day they can’t arrange for child care.”

Speaking of which, he predicts that successful employers are going to be paying a lot more attention – and perhaps even helping to pay for – child care in the future. In the manufacturing and logistics world, they’re also going to be more amenable to areas of the workforce, such as college students with limited availability, that have not been tapped up to now.

“They need people, and if they can get someone who can only work afternoons, or only a couple of days a week, the smart ones are going to reach out to those people,” he explains. “We’re seeing a lot of a avenues opening up that have been limited up until now. Some companies are getting ahead of the curve, and the ones we consult with are learning that they need to take a good look at who they hire, and how those people can work, if they are going to be successful.”

White-collar, new realities

The aftermath of COVID-19, from remote work to flex schedules, also is being felt in traditional office settings, as well as consumer-facing sectors such as restaurant and retail. Those in more traditional human-resources roles say this has presented both challenges and opportunities.

Tired of the Same Old Grind?

A recent Forbes article took a deep dive into some of the more esoteric jobs that have blossomed into view during the pandemic. Will they stay in a normalizing workforce?

Here are a few “outside the box” options for those thinking of a more novel career:

• Director of remote work: How to manage all those stay-at-home employees? Create a new management position, of course! According to Forbes, tech companies like GitLab, Facebook, Twitter and Quora now have dedicated officers making sure those working from home are aligned with in-office personnel.

• Fitness commitment counselor: Just like the “Freshman 15,” there’s now the “COVID 19” (or 20, or 25). How about someone on staff to tackle not only stay-at-home weight gain, but also anxiety, depression, stress and a host of other mental-health issues that aren’t new to the workforce, but are soaring now?

• Workplace environment architect: Are you working from your dining-room table? Crammed into a spare bedroom that still has a full bedroom suite? Enough said. There’s a definite need for help in creating the optimal home-office space.

“If you can embrace a remote or hybrid work environment, you now have candidates basically everywhere in the world,” says Lara Fleming, chief people officer at The Trust Company of Tennessee, a state-chartered trust company with more than $4 billion under management and offices in Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities.

“The problem that we are seeing, and some staffing agencies are probably seeing, is that the available talent out there is not necessarily matching what we need. Even though the geography has gotten really big, the pool right now is really small.”

That has made it something of a buyer’s market in terms of prospective employees and their requirements, but employers are not completely without power, adds Jack Davidson, chief strategy officer.

“We just filled two remote positions – one person’s in Florida, and the other is in New Jersey – and are looking now at someone in Las Vegas,” Davidson says. “The candidate pool is small, yes, but there’s a broader swath of folks to look at, and we’re thinking it will allow us to make the kind of hires that allow us to keep people longer because both we and they are creating the kind of relationship that is successful.”

Tennessee by the Numbers

• Statewide Unemployment (June 2021): 4.9%
• Davidson County: 5.2%
• Shelby County: 8.1%
• Knox County: 4.5%
• Hamilton County: 6.1%

Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Developmen

The Trust Company had some remote working arrangements in play pre-COVID, so going to a full-time, totally remote workforce wasn’t a complete shift in dynamics. The biggest challenge, Fleming notes, was getting people who were used to being somewhat walled off in a home office to turn on their video cameras for calls and adapt to other culture shifts to create a more unified feel.

“We had to figure out a way for everyone, from staff to supervisors, to measure productivity in new ways,” Fleming points out. “Someone’s workday may not look like 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. anymore. For supervisors, the key is to measure for results, and not the time they see people right in front of them. Know that they are dealing with kids, pets, things at home, so have those conversations and not make every interaction 100% about the work that needs to be done.

“It’s funny, we used to not ask if people were OK, and now we are making sure that people do.”

The company, which has nearly 90 employees, is at just under 50% in-office staff, down from closer to 90% pre-pandemic. That number might not shift much, Fleming says, based on how fully remote and hybrid positions shake out in the coming weeks and months.

“A company with the expectation that everyone’s going to come back to the office soon is going to suffer,” Fleming adds. “People have been taking this working-remote time to evaluate what’s important to them, what work-life balance means in their life. They’ve had family time they may not have had before. Great companies with a great culture are going to find a way forward, but there are going to be a lot of conversations and adjustments ahead.”

“Anyone who refuses to look at what’s going on, who wants everything in their business to be just like it was, is going to struggle,” Przybylinski adds. “The workforce is pushing back. If you want that eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week worker and aren’t interested in anyone else, you’re going to have trouble. Employers are going to find their way through this, at least the good ones, because that’s what candidates are demanding.

“I’ve been in staffing for more than 20 years, and while there have always been ebbs and flows when it comes to recessions, tight job markets and other economic factors, I’ve never seen such an employee-driven setup.

“People want to work, and they are looking at the demands of their lives when it comes to where, and how much, they can. If we are all working to connect the dots, then there will be plenty of opportunity for candidates and a good workforce available for the employers.”