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With more job openings than unemployed, companies struggle to hire enough workers

Companies are competing for potential workers with creative enticements, like referral bonuses, sign-on bonuses, increased hourly rates and improved benefits.

YORK, Pa. — The U.S. labor force now has a large gap between job openings and job seekers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.9 million job openings in August but only 8.4 million unemployed.

Companies are competing for those potential workers with creative enticements, like referral bonuses, sign-on bonuses, increased hourly rates and improved benefits packages.

Pennex Aluminum Company in York has used several of those incentives, but still has to aggressively pursue potential employees. The company had a booth at a job fair in People’s Bank Park on Sept. 28.

“We are looking to hire new team members and it's been a very challenging hiring environment,” said general manager Scott Strong.

The economy is still healing from the pandemic. Unemployment in Pennsylvania stood at 6.4 percent in August, compared to 10.2 percent in August 2020.

Workforce growth is a good sign. But it pulls workers away from positions re-opening as the pandemic winds down, leaving some industries chronically understaffed.

“There's so much demand for the trades: welding, HVAC and of course healthcare,” said Tiffany Graham, career services coordinator of the Adult and Continuing Education Center at York County School of Technology.

The pandemic highlighted the mismatch between what jobs are available and what workers want in a career.

“Even before the crisis staffing was pretty bad and demanding. COVID really changed things,” said April Swanson, CEO of Harrisburg-based Loyal Hearts Staffing, which helps staff health care facilities.

In the wake of nearly two years working from, many employees are re-assessing the value of their time. That has forced desperate employers to take a hard look at their own policies.

“We've all learned to communicate together better. We've all learned what our different needs are and been able to really develop a respect for a diverse workforce and different ways of looking at things,” Strong said. “So I think it's made us a much stronger organization.”

Because of the current rush to offer more benefits, such as working from home, flexible hours and paid time off, economists said the labor shortage could lead to better working conditions in the long run.

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