Brevard employers across the board find difficulty filling job vacancies – Florida Today

With Brevard County’s unemployment rate falling to levels not seen since before the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing challenges many employers are facing to fill open positions is getting even harder.
Latest data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity shows that Brevard’s unemployment in July was 4.4%, down from 5.0% in June and from 9.4% in July 2020. Brevard’s jobless rate peaked at 13.2% in April 2020, as pandemic-related layoffs were taking place.
Lori Robinson, business liaison supervisor for CareerSource Brevard, said the difficulty in filling job vacancies is “across the board, with the low unemployment rate and reduced labor force,” particularly “in industries impacted by the pandemic, such as hospitality, food service, certain retail categories and health care. Additionally, the construction industry is having a hard time finding job seekers to fill their jobs.”
Robinson said many Brevard employers are “searching for innovative solutions to help fill their jobs. They are adjusting their wages to be more competitive. They are offering sign-on bonuses and added benefits, even offering current employees referral bonuses” for identifying a job candidate that the employer hires.
Hotel owner Tom Hermansen said he is doing things like that at his properties.
Hermansen — who owns or co-owns hotels in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral — said hiring is a challenge for a wide range of jobs, including servers, bartenders, front-desk staff, housekeepers and maintenance workers, among others.
Hermansen said he has raised starting pay by 20%; offered “retention bonuses” for recently hired employees who stay for 90 days and six months; and gave staff “referral bonuses” for finding job candidates who are later hired.
More:Florida’s jobless claims at pre-pandemic level
More:Brevard, Florida unemployment rates rose in June, as more people enter labor force
But Hermansen — who also is chairman of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council — said it’s still hard to recruit workers.
He’s even having trouble getting people to show up for a job interview. Typically, Hermansen said, if he has five or six interviews scheduled with potential employees who already have filled out the preliminary application paperwork, only one will actually show up for the interview.
Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said one thing helping the tourism and hospitality industry now is that September and October typically are slower for tourism than the spring and summer months.
“There’s s little bit of relief there,” Cranis said.
But the flip side is that, with the school year underway, the hospitality industry doesn’t have as big a labor pool of high school and college students to tap into to fill job openings as during the summer.
“Restaurants are still struggling to be open seven days a week,” Cranis said.
Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce President Marcia Gaedcke said the employee shortage is unprecedented, at least in recent years.
“I’ve been here 23 years at the chamber, and I don’t recall a shortage like this,” Gaedcke said. “Everybody is struggling to find workers. We still have an incredible shortage. It’s a perfect alignment of a number of things. And there’s no silver bullet” to solve the problem.
The worker shortage has forced some retailers and restaurant owners to reduce hours or days they are open, with some restaurants also reducing their capacity, Gaedcke said.
Gaedcke said she believes the pandemic has accelerated the decision of some people nearing retirement age to take early retirement, while the number of younger people entering the labor force has not increased enough to make up for those early retirements.
Additionally, some couples are having difficulty in finding child care for their children or are deciding to home-school their children because of the pandemic, Gaedcke said. Thus, she said, two-income households are “belt-tightening” to become one-income households, with the second person opting to leave the labor force.
Some people are leaving their jobs in search of positions in which they can work from home.
And some former salaried or hourly employees of companies are taking on gig employment — for example, as a Uber or Lyft driver, or delivering restaurant meals or groceries, Gaedke said, thus taking them out of the traditional labor force.
Rich Kolleda, owner of the local Spherion Recruiting & Staffing office that covers the Space Coast and Treasure Coast, said he has never seen a situation like this.
“For the first time ever, there are more openings than there are people to fill them,”  Kolleda said. “It’s pretty much across the board.”
That, he said, means some employers are seeking out staff through nontraditional avenues, including hiring people who don’t have transportation, who previously were incarcerated or who are homeless.
“They’re trying to tap into whatever market they can” to find employees, Kolleda said.
Kolleda said other employers are seeking to make the jobs more attractive with such things as hybrid schedules that enable employees to work from home at least part of their workweek; free child care or stipends for child care; or expanded paid time off. 
What’s happening in Brevard is typical of what’s going on statewide.
“Employers are trying to hire,” Department of Economic Opportunity chief economist Adrienne Johnston said. “They have a lot of job openings. We know there’s a lot of demand out there. I think we’re really seeing that across all industries. Every job category, class, industry, sector is experiencing some level of tension in the labor market. It’s across the board. It’s really impacting jobs across all industries, all occupations and sectors. A lot of employers are feeling the impacts of that.”
Brevard County government held a daylong job fair on Aug. 17, as the county was looking to fill about 300 vacancies on its 2,400-person workforce, meaning about one out of every eight county jobs were vacant at the time of the job fair.
The jobs were in almost every county department and in a wide range of categories — from heavy-equipment operators to clerical staff.
Brevard County Human Resources Director Jerry Visco said more than 100 people showed up for the job fair, and they filled out about 200 applications for the openings, with many filling out applications for multiple positions. County officials now are going through the applications and making job offers.
Visco said the county always has had trouble in job recruiting when competing against generally higher pay scales in the private sector. And now things are even harder, with the overall labor shortage in the area.
He believes the pandemic also has exacerbated things, with many potential employees seeking jobs in which they can work from home — something the county is not doing.
Visco said the county is becoming more aggressive in seeking to fill vacancies.
In addition to having its own job fair — rather than participating in job fairs set up by other entities, which Brevard County government has done in the past — the county has hired a recruiter to find job candidates.
The county is working with branches of the U.S. military to transition service members to county jobs as they are ending their active-duty service. The county also is trying to recruit at the college and high school levels, including with internships, in hopes that the interns become full-time employees upon graduation.
“It’s been a tough slog,” trying to fill vacancies, Visco said. “Competition for labor is pretty intense right now.”
Johnston noted that a commonly watched measure of labor demand is online job advertisements.
For five consecutive months, employers in Florida have set record highs for such advertisements, seeking to fill open positions, peaking at 545,225 ads in July, the latest-available figure.
That’s an indicator that there are a lot of jobs waiting to be filled, with among the strongest demand in the health care, retail and food service sectors, Johnston said.
Johnston said there are more ads than there are unemployed people.
Plus, she noted that the data counts only online help-wanted ads — not any other form of employers seeking employees — and one online ad may be seeking to fill multiple positions.
Johnston said that, while the recovery from the pandemic-related economic downturn of 2020 was relatively quick, compared with previous recessions, “it does take time for employers and employees to connect back in the labor market. It just takes a little bit of time for those connections to be made.”
Robinson said many local employers now are “becoming more comfortable with expanding their hiring pool,” and seeking what she calls “Brevard’s hidden-talent job seekers,” who may have been impacted by substance use or have a criminal record.
Robinson said people in those categories of job seekers are “talent whose employers have reported offer job loyalty and appreciation, once given that second chance.”
CareerSource Brevard is a regional public/private partnership working to connect employers with potential employees. Robinson said these are among the things it is doing now to help make those connections:
For details on upcoming CareerSource Brevard events, go to https://careersourcebrevard.com/events
The latest data from the Department of Economic Opportunity shows how tight the local labor market is becoming.
The DEO also tracks unemployment rates for Brevard’s four most populous cities. Here are those numbers:
Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at dberman@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @bydaveberman.
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