Hiring, labor force challenges detailed at annual chamber breakfast

·4 min read

Jan. 29—LIMA — More than 100 local business leaders and elected officials heard details on Friday morning of the steep challenges facing Lima region businesses in regard to the labor force.

It wasn't all bad news though at the annual Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast.

Aside from the presentation on hiring difficulties and "the great resignation," attendees heard a positive and in-depth annual report from chamber President and CEO Jed Metzger as well as celebrated the 2021 chamber Ambassador of the Year, Katy Page.

Metzger led off the morning reporting that despite the coronavirus pandemic, "2021 was an extraordinary and successful year" for member businesses. He told the assembled crowd at Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center the chamber had a more than 92 percent member retention rate in 2021, and that membership grew last year by 4 percent.

He also touted the successes of the business community, highlighting the work of groups such as the Lima Young Professionals, Activate Allen County and the South Jackson Street Garden.

The meat of the program was from keynote speaker John Trott, the executive director of The Greater Ohio Workforce Board, Inc., who cautioned of hard times continuing in the labor force area. Trott also echoed Metzger's thoughts of Allen County as he compared it to other county chambers of commerce.

"Allen County is in tip-top shape compared to the other counties," Trott said. "And that's because of the leadership of all of you people sitting in this room right now."

Trott then went on to share less than encouraging news that was mainly focused on labor shortages, covering both facts and myths surrounding the shortage of workers not just in the United States, but around the globe. His presentation examined historical trends in the labor force, how the pandemic has shaped the market for workers and solutions to the issue of a lack of workers.

"The labor shortage is not going away, it is not a phase we are in. It is a long-term issue we're all going to be facing. It is generational," Trott told the crowd. "It's not just here. It's everywhere; all across Ohio, all of the U.S. and all across the globe. Everyone's going through it."

Trott explained a population "drought" has been in place since the 1960s as fewer people have children. He added that the issue is going to get worse before it gets better, in part because as the Baby Boomer generation cycles out of the workforce, those employees are not being replaced by younger generations such as Millenials.

"Two million 'Boomers' retire a year and that number is expected to exceed 3 million in 2022," Trott said. "Meanwhile, the average family is having a record-low average of less than 2.1 kids."

Digging further into employment data, Trott also broke down the labor force by gender, noting that women had caught up with men in the workplace for the first time prior to the start the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 50 percent of all workers.

However, he revealed, from February 2020 to February 2021, an estimated 2.4 million females left their jobs compared to just 1.8 million men departing the workforce. In January 2021 alone, 275,000 women left the work force compared to 71,000 men.

"(Women) were adversely affected more than men," Trott explained of the pandemic's impact on women.

A key factor in the drop in women's participation in the job market, he added, was the lack of affordable childcare, an industry that lost 10 percent of its workforce from February 2020 through September 2021.

Tott completed his presentation with a list of possible solutions for business leaders seeking new hires. Among the ideas Trott suggested were focusing efforts on retaining current staff; recruiting from overlooked populations such as high school students, formerly incarcerated people and retirees seeking to earn extra cash; and to expand benefits such as more paid time off, higher wages, and signing and retention bonuses.

Chamber officials also recognized its Ambassador of the Year, an annual honor bestowed upon a chamber volunteer who accumulates the most points during the year for various projects, volunteerism and outreach.

The three finalists for 2021 were Page, Adah Ellerbrock of Coleman Health Services, and Jason May of State Bank.

Page, a director at the Wyndham Hotels downtown, was tabbed as Ambassador of the Year for volunteering at a number of chamber events and earning the most points for the year.

"It's very exciting to win," Page says. "What it does is get your name out there to customers and it's amazing how much it affects your sales. I would highly recommend anyone thinking about trying to become an ambassador to do it."

Reach Joe Gilroy on Twitter @TLNJoeGilroy