The news on the employment front has been positive recently. The national unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% in December from 9% the previous month. That was the sixth consecutive month of lower numbers, and the lowest since 2008.
In Massachusetts the rate stands at 7% currently, down from a high of 8.8% in October 2009. Locally, in Southern Worcester County it’s even lower, at 6.8%.
That’s all good, but is that also what’s happening here on the ground in Webster, Dudley and Oxford?
We talked with two local staffing professionals to get their opinion. Donald Bourque is the co-owner and founder of Absolute Staffing in Auburn and Webster, and Karen Mroczek is the Business Development Manager for Massachusetts and Connecticut for Diamond Staffing Inc., which has an office in Webster.
“We’re coming off a strong year,” said Ms. Mroczek, “much better than going from 2010 to 2011. Hiring in the service industries was up, though manufacturing was down. The balance was there, and we’re holding that trend.” She is optimistic for this next year and sees no “backward trending.”
According to the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the biggest job gains last year were in leisure and hospitality, including food services, entertainment and recreation, which added 14,700 jobs. Retail, transportation and utilities added 9,500, education and health services were up 6,500.
At the other end of the spectrum, government jobs were down 4,300, while manufacturing added only 2,800 and construction just 1,900.
Mr. Bourque credits the Patrick-Murray administration for keeping the Massachusetts unemployment rate lower than the national rate. “They walked into a really tough situation, with an unprecedented economic crisis. And they’ve done a phenomenal job keeping the unemployment rate lower by keeping Massachusetts moving forward,” he said.
Ms. Mroczek and Mr. Bourque both described a new trend in hiring: more and more companies are turning to staffing services to do the hiring for them.
“This has been going on unnoticed for the last three years,” said Ms. Mroczek, who’s been in this business for twenty years. “Companies are moving their personnel hiring functions offsite; we are basically becoming contract HR. Staffing agencies have gone from a sales-driven mode to a consulting mode, and our phones are busier than ever.”
She attributes the trend to the cost and time associated with hiring personnel. We do it all for them, she said, the posting, searching, interviewing, screening, and matching employees’ skills to available jobs.”
It’s a national, across-the-board phenomenon, she says, from start-ups to well established companies, for all kinds of jobs, from clerical to middle management.
Mr. Bourque, talked about the kinds of people that his employer clients are most looking for. There are two, he said, those with trade skills, such as machinists, who earn around $18.00 an hour, and those with fewer skills and willing to work for close to the minimum wage, which is $8.00 an hour in Massachusetts.
Mr. Bourque said he is seeing some activity in the manufacturing sector now, and echoed the new corporate strategy of working through staffing agencies. “Companies are hiring again because they have a budget, but they are doing it through temporary employment agencies, such as Absolute Staffing.”
“We can offer temp-to-permanent positions. That way, companies can bring someone on board as a temp for 90 days, see how well they work out, and then hire them on a permanent basis. This approach also lets the company put off adding the new employee to its health insurance policy for another 90 days, thus stretching the personnel budget.” It also defers the unemployment insurance cost for a time. “The high federal insurance tax rate really hurts the bottom line,” Mr. Bourque said. “It was two percent when I started this business, now it’s over eight.”
Looking at Webster, Dudley and Oxford specifically, the latest available unemployment statistics show Webster with an unemployment rate of 8.1%, Dudley with 6.2% and Oxford with 6.3%.
Another Massachusetts survey shows that business optimism is up. It rose slightly to 51% in December, meaning that business managers are predominantly positive. The low point here was 33% in February of 2009.
“People looking for jobs should start with the staffing services,” Ms. Mroczek said. “We have postings you won’t see anywhere else.”
Mr. Bourque is optimistic too. “Jobs are coming. I can feel it in my bones.” And with eight years in this business, he ought to know.
- Tuesday, 17 January 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor