Good help hard to find for many reasons

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

There may be different theories on why good help is hard to find. However, there is one thing experts seem to agree on — low unemployment in the region makes it harder.

As of July, unemployment in Curry and Roosevelt Counties was just over 3 percent. Of those who aren’t employed, New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions spokesman Carlos Castaneda said many simply aren’t employable because of disabilities or other issues.

Consequently, the people who can work, for the most part, pick and choose its jobs.

From newspaper ads to Internet advertising and job fairs, employers work tirelessly to fill their ranks. But response is minimal at best, and many respondents don’t possess the qualities needed.

Local government struggles because even though it offers good benefits, it can’t compete with higher pay.

That’s one problem Assistant Curry County Manager Lance Pyle battles. Pyle has lost about 95 percent of prospective employees to the private sector, and he gets three or four responses for jobs that used to draw a dozen applicants.

As Curry County’s personnel director, Pyle said the county has nine open positions, mostly at the adult detention center. The shortage strains existing staff and stretches resources.

From July to September, the detention center paid out more than half of its overtime budget for the year to cover staffing gaps, Pyle said.

To stretch dollars, Pyle said the county has used inmate labor in the jail kitchen, on construction projects and for grounds work and other uses. But not enough inmates qualify to fit all labor needs.

Pyle said the county has done wage and salary surveys to be sure the county is comparable to other areas similar in size.

“Clovis is growing at this stage so fast,” Pyle said, “which is great for the economy and it’s great for the community but we’ve got to get the people in to fill the positions.”

Portales City Recruitment Coordinator Shelley Johnson said she too is struggling to fill positions.

Problem positions are primarily seasonal or temporary, and law enforcement positions. She has about 14 open slots, mostly in Parks and Recreation for fall athletic programs, she said.

Johnson attended a job fair last week at Eastern New Mexico University.

“We handed out a lot of applications so hopefully were going to get some responses on those,” she said.

The City of Clovis is also struggling to keep positions filled, Human Resources Director Nancye Clements said.

“It’s just like everybody else in town, we’re having the same problems. It’s just difficult to get qualified applicants. People just don’t seem to be that interested,” she said.

The city, which has a workforce of over 400 full and part-time employees, has 14 open positions.

Problems are not limited to government entities.

Brenda Gardner, a grill manager at Dairy Queen, said the restaurant is hard-pressed just to find people who can commit.

“Either they don’t show after they fill out the application,” she said, “or they’ll come in for an interview, but they don’t show up for work.”

She is optimistic about two employees hired Thursday, but said the process is difficult.

New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, formerly the New Mexico Labor Department, spokesman Carlos Castaneda’s agency studies employment trends and issues throughout the state and works to develop solutions.
Castaneda said eastern New Mexico is experiencing growing pains.
A push to bring in industry and growth in the Curry and Roosevelt county areas has brought business to rural areas. But workers have not yet arrived to support growth.
Castaneda said studies show it is a temporary problem, though the definition of temporary varies.
“If the economy is good, people will come. I don’t think (the communities) got ahead of themselves, you can’t grow your economy according to your (available) work force.”
Castaneda said the push statewide is to encourage high-tech, high-paying jobs, and not all service or retail level positions where income won’t support growth.
“If you bring in a job that is going to pay $80,000 to $90,000 a year,” he said, “that one job will almost guarantee you two jobs in other industries.”

SOS Staffing Services branch manager George Ratledge works to connect employers with qualified people.
While he agrees with many of Castaneda’s theories about economic growth, he believes employers must change.
“At $10 an hour for any type of position in today’s economy, it is (near) impossible for a family of four to make a living. So even at $10 an hour, (there’s little) incentive to come to Clovis,” he said.
But money isn’t everything.
Today’s employee is looking for other opportunities, and job loyalty isn’t what it once was, he said.
Industry collapses and large lay-offs have bred a lack of job security into the current generation. In response, employees look for situations, even if only short term, where basic needs are met.
“Even college grads are not committed to an employer for more than two or three years. The loyalty is not there. It’s a generational thing where they’re always looking for the next job.
“You have to treat people in a decent way (to keep them).”