The coronavirus pandemic has made the daily work life unpredictable in more ways than we can imagine.
In places like York County, the unemployment rate was as high as 7.9% in June. In James City County, the unemployment rate for June was 9.8%, according to reports from the Virginia Employment Commission.
Virginia has been dealing with COVID-19 since March. Shouldn’t the job market and employment offices have learned to adjust to the outbreak by now?
They have, but that’s not the issue here.
Chris Cary, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Newport News, said the problem isn’t finding jobs for people, it’s finding people to fill those jobs.
“We used to have more people than we knew what to do with at times,” Cary said. “But with the unemployment compensation a lot of these people are getting, it has made it better for them to stay at home as opposed to taking some of the jobs we have available.”
The current maximum weekly unemployment benefit amount is $378 in Virginia — the $600 stimulus unemployment payment added to that weekly amount has ended and Congress has yet to vote on a new package.
Benefit duration can vary from 12 to 26 weeks, depending on wages initially earned in the base period of the fiscal year, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
“There were people that were used to doing $12, $14 an hour jobs that were making more money by staying at home and collecting unemployment,” Cary said. “We’ve heard it many, many times. ‘I’m not going to come back to work until the unemployment stops.’”
So until the benefits run out, it appears many people do not plan on going back to work, especially if there is a risk of infection. Express Employment Professionals has been reaching out to their clients to make sure they are adhering to Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest safety guidelines.
“People need to take care of their families and they saw this as a way to do that,” Cary added.
Warehouse work is in the most demand right now. On average, Express Employment Professionals works with 10 to 12 warehouses on the Peninsula a month. Companies are struggling to get people to apply through their own websites, so they are reaching out to employment agencies.
Cary said Express Employment Professionals has more than 100 open warehouse positions all over the Peninsula.
“We’ve got more jobs than we can fill right now,” he said. “Anybody with very low skill can do these jobs.”
For people who are interested in finding work, Cary said the most important information to know is how your potential employer will ensure your safety.
“The biggest thing [people] want to know is where I’m going, is the company taking it seriously, and am I going to be protected?” he said.
Chrystian Uzzle, spokeswoman for Tidewater Staffing, wrote in an email the agency never stopped working because they service an “essential industry.”
According to the Tidewater Staffing website, the temp agency provides workforce for ship repair, manufacturing and warehouse companies in the area with office locations in Newport News, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.
“We currently have about 120 positions open in the logistics and warehousing industries and about 150 openings in the ship repair and ship building industries,” she added.
When asked what employees need to know before going back to work, she said a resume is nice but is not required for all positions and the agency is there to match skill sets with “the best available opportunities.”
So what do employees need to know to make sure workplaces are safe?
Follow CDC guidelines, Uzzle noted.
“The best thing that employees can do to be safe while at work is to maintain an appropriate social distance, face covering, and be consistently washing their hands,” she wrote. “All of the employers that we work with have taken the necessary steps on their part to ensure the safety of their workplaces as has Tidewater Staffing.”
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