The Amazon Fulfillment Center at the River Ridge Commerce Center is hiring warehouse team members at a rate of $15 per hour or more, according to the Amazon website. Staff file photo
The Amazon Fulfillment Center at the River Ridge Commerce Center is hiring warehouse team members at a rate of $15 per hour or more, according to the Amazon website. Staff file photo

SOUTHERN INDIANA — Fear of contracting COVID-19, increased unemployment benefits and lack of childcare options are among the reasons experts believe that some businesses are struggling to find workers.

But with the pandemic putting the labor force and employers in uncharted waters, they agreed more information and research will have to be completed before there is a full understanding of the situation.

“We are hearing from businesses that they’re having difficulty filling positions,” said Tony Waterson, executive director of the Region 10 Workforce Board and WorkOne Southern Indiana.

One common remark from employers is that the additional $600 weekly stipend paid by the federal government to those who lost their jobs or were furloughed as a result of COVID-19 has discouraged some people from re-entering the labor market, Waterson said.

“The idea that they’re making more money from not working is really just an unintended consequence of something that was supposed to help people in a time of need,” he said.

Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of One Southern Indiana, said job openings are increasing locally.

“Yes, there are companies hiring. Is it going to be enough to take up the slack in our unemployment? I don’t know,” she said.

One factor that must be considered is childcare, Chesser continued. With many childcare facilities closed, or open at partial capacity, some employees are being forced to remain at home to care for their families.

“I think the childcare factor is probably bigger than we realize,” she said.

Then there’s the cause that led to record unemployment and business shutdowns — the coronavirus. Though some companies are reopening, worries about COVID-19 remain.

“Some are still concerned about coming back to work due to safety,” Chesser said. “The other concern is that it’s not just about them, it’s the exposure they would bring home to people that they’re caregivers for.”

During a presentation for 1si on Wednesday, Uric Dufrene, Sanders Chair of Business at Indiana University Southeast, provided data showing that job openings have increased in recent weeks.

Over the last 30 days, Amazon, Baptist Health and Clark Memorial Health have been among the top employers in terms of posting job openings.

Though they both saw sizable decreases in jobless rates last month, Clark County’s unemployment rate was 12.8 percent and Floyd County’s was 11.3 percent in May.

Prior to the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges for employers was the availability of laborers with appropriate skills and credentials, Dufrene said Friday.

“If companies are having difficulties filling positions now, this could be attributed to the skills mismatch for positions available,” Dufrene said. “The enhanced unemployment compensation allows some workers to earn wages equivalent to pre-tax wages of more than $50,000. So this could be having an impact as well.”

The additional federal payment is slated to end July 31. In the meantime, businesses are attempting to ramp up production, but they need workers to do so, Waterson said.

Lack of skilled laborers is always a concern, and not having enough employees to meet production demands can hamper businesses as they attempt to reopen, Dufrene added.

“It was a challenge for the region pre-pandemic, and will likely remain post-pandemic,” he said. “It really comes down to talent. Regions must be able to retain and attract talent. This is often one of the major factors offered by site selection companies on location decisions.”

The number of people filing for unemployment has been decreasing in Southern Indiana, which is a good sign, Watterson said. However, there has been an increase in permanent layoffs and business closures.

Waterson said from government officials to the local unemployment office, people are working hard to help Hoosiers get through the crisis. But he added the pandemic’s effect has been widespread.

“This is a unique situation that we’re facing. No industry was spared during the pandemic in looking at layoffs,” he said.

There are other factors that affect the labor pool. For example, Chesser said there’s more and more focus on workers who are nearing retirement deciding not to come back to work due to fears over the virus.

Employers will have to consider several factors when opening back up and returning to normal worker levels.

“If employers want to bring employees back, they have the right to do that at any time but they have to negotiate with his or her employee to make sure their needs are filled,” Chesser said.

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