Pandemic regulations may have lifted, but the labor shortage has continued, with low unemployment but high demand for workers.
The Oak Ridger reached out to the Roane Alliance, Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and received comments on these issues, along with desired skills and training programs available in the Oak Ridge area.
How’s the job market overall?
Justin Snow, vice president of economic development, and Allen Lutz, director of education and workforce, both of the Roane Alliance, emailed The Oak Ridger on a broad overview of the job market in Roane County at present. The Roane Alliance is an organization which promotes economic development in the county.
“There was already a shortage of employees in medical, manufacturing, and technical trades before the (COVID-19) pandemic. The departure of baby boomers from the workforce started and was picking up. The skill shortages were challenging to fill, but mainly hindering many companies from expanding. The goal was not to fall behind. Raising pay was a means to attract workers, but other companies were looking to do, too, so small raises could result in more employees switching employers. For many employees, the travel time to work and a company’s work environment mattered more than a small raise by changing employers.
“When the pandemic hit, much changed: layoffs occurred, employees worked from home where possible, and some decided to retire earlier than planned. As a result, production declined in many facilities. When the pandemic started to recede, the number of available trained workers had declined. As a result, many manufacturers increased hiring individuals with the basic essential technical skills and aptitudes for growing skills with on-the-job training.
“Increased use of staffing agencies has mixed results in obtaining qualified people, and on-job training increased in importance. There is some sign nationally that some of the ‘retirees’ already want to return to work full or part-time.
“It’s hard to gauge the job market with some companies doing well and others struggling. From the 30+ companies (mainly manufacturing and distribution from the Roane County Industrial Guide) polled last year, we saw a +254 net job growth. 347 new jobs added vs. 81 jobs lost. Nonetheless, companies are struggling in the current environment. Some are showing growth and need more employees to continue to grow but can’t find the labor force,” the Roane Alliance stated.
“Overall, there still is a labor shortage. Many manufacturing companies have to offer higher wages than normal to attract a workforce, with some offering substantial sign-on bonuses. Some companies with administrative position openings provide the flexibility and ability to work from home to help attract a remote workforce. We’ve heard that healthcare facilities sometimes have to temporarily pay up to $50/hour to attract qualified LPN (licensed practical) nurses. But, overall, the common trend that you’re seeing is that companies have to offer and pay more money to attract the workforce needed to ensure their long-term success.
“Some of the labor shortages may be caused by the ‘malaise from COVID,’ and people have not come out of it yet; some publications equate it to PTSD.
“Another ongoing problem is opioid addiction and the inability to pass a drug test. Many of our employers once valued and strived to hire a skilled person for their company’s job opening, and they still do. But many are now willing to hire someone with no skills that can pass a drug test, roll the dice and see if they can train them on the skills needed to make them and their company successful,” the Roane Alliance stated
While restaurants have gotten much of the attention for the labor shortage, the Roane Alliance leaders listed not just restaurants but also retail; manufacturing; logistics and transportation; healthcare including a nurse shortage; and construction trades.
Many manufacturing jobs, they said, require skills such as industrial maintenance, machine tooling, welding, electricians, CNC Machine Operators and production Associates. There is also a shortage of nurses, especially CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistant) and LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurse). As more and more truckers retire, they stated, logistics and transportation companies need truck drivers. The construction trades are also experiencing shortages.
“You can notice the job openings and lack of help in retail stores and restaurants. Some restaurants are half full and operating at a minimal capacity because they can’t get enough servers, cooks, etc. And I know retail struggles the same to get salesclerks and associates,” the two stated in their response to The Oak Ridger.
Other companies talked to The Oak Ridger specifically about openings in their own industries for specialized positions.
“We are currently hiring in all areas of the organization in areas such as administrative support, engineering, IT, nuclear science, and cybersecurity, just to name a few,” Morgan McCorkle, media relations manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A full list of open positions and skills required at the lab can be found at https://jobs.ornl.gov/.
“We have dozens of open positions on our careers website (https://www.y12.doe.gov/careers/), and some of our highest areas of need include chemical operators, cyber security professionals, information technology support professionals, engineers, machinists, and radiological control technicians. In fact, we currently have openings for more than 100 chemical operators,” Kathryn King, a spokeswoman for Consolidated Nuclear Security at Y-12 stated.
“There are several schools where prospective employees can obtain the required education and skills. For example, Roane State Community College has an excellent chemical engineering technology certificate program, as well as programs dedicated to cyber security. The University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Tickle College of Engineering provides a variety of paths to pursue, King told The Oak Ridger. “Those interested in the skilled trades (e.g., carpenters, electricians, welders) can check with local union halls for apprenticeships and training.
“It’s never too early or too late to pursue education and training. Students should begin exploring available career paths by talking to those whose careers interest them and look for internship opportunities. Our educational outreach programs focus on sharing information with students about opportunities in skilled trades, manufacturing, and engineering by sending employees into schools to talk about their careers and create interest in science, technology, engineering, and math careers at Y-12. If you are looking for a career change, learn what education and training are required and make the leap,” she added.
Crystal Jordan, manager of marketing and business development with Methodist Medical Center, also described a series of education partnerships between MMC’s company Covenant Health and various companies.
- The Health Sciences Academy with Oak Ridge High School is a multi-path program that prepares students to move seamlessly into post-secondary education or the healthcare workforce.
- Collaboration with Roane State Community College provides onsite clinical experience and mentoring for those seeking careers in nursing and allied health fields.
- “Covenant Health’s Nurse Residency Program is designed to support new graduate nurses (RNs) through their first year of nursing. Every newly graduated RN hired is automatically placed into the program because we’re committed to helping nurses successfully transition from an educational setting to a fast-paced hospital environment,” Jordan stated.
- Methodist serves as a core site for clinical rotations for medical students at Lincoln Memorial University, enabling them to gain practical experience as they work side by side with Methodist physicians in real-world medical situations.
- Tuition reimbursement options are available for employees who decide to pursue additional job-related clinical education in specific areas of need.
- Student loan repayment assistance which can offer a potential savings of several thousand dollars over the duration of the loan repayment.
“Helping employees build a long-term career path is always our goal. Methodist provides extensive continuing education assistance for growth along with mentoring programs to help new employees build experience. In addition to clinical and technical roles, the hospital also has a variety of entry-level positions which offer support and on-the-job training. This includes roles in areas such as shipping and receiving, administrative support, transport, food services, etc,” Jordan stated.
Those who wish to contact the hospital directly may email Methodist’s recruiter, Laura Chagnon at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to the hospital’s career website page mmcoakridge.com/careers.
Roane Alliance listed several sources of education including Roane State Community College and Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Harriman.
Details about the programs at TCAT-Harriman are online at https://tcatharriman.edu/programs. TCAT Harriman plans to add three new training programs in the near future: Truck Driving, Heavy Equipment Operators, and Logistics & Freight Management, Roane Alliance stated. TCAT Knoxville offers some of the same programs but also offers others, such as Surgical Technology and Truck Driving; the Knoxville offerings are at https://tcatknoxville.edu/programs. Roane State Community College offers many degrees and certificate programs in Health Sciences, Nursing and Medicine; Computer Science; Engineering and Technology; and many others. The RSCC offerings can be found on the college’s website.
“TCAT and Roane State Community College stand ready to help prepare for workforce needs. They will work to develop new job-specific training courses to help employees develop new skills and upgrade their existing skills,” Roane Alliance stated.
Another option for training in construction and technical trades Roane Alliance stated is through unions.
“The majority of the unions find it challenging to provide enough skilled workers to meet the workforce needs within East Tennessee. Most unions have apprenticeships that offer immediate employment, allowing you to learn while you earn.
“CALM, Construction and Labor-Management Program (http://www.calm-tn.org/), includes activities to promote positive labor-management initiatives and develop increased construction employee apprenticeship training and advanced skill training, construction technical education, and safety education as part of its mission.
“CALM is an excellent place to learn about the trades, apprenticeship information, and the 16 affiliated individual craft unions covering the broad spectrum of construction trades.
“The craft trades include Boilermakers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Cement Finishers, Electrical Workers, Insulators, Ironworkers, Laborers, Millwrights, Operating Engineers, Painters, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Roofers, Sheetmetal Workers, Sprinkler Fitters, and Teamsters. CALM periodically conducts the East Tennessee Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ETARP), a 3-week, 120-hour course providing attendees solid preparation to enter the apprenticeship programs. However, the skill shortage is bad enough that unions are hiring individuals and entering them immediately into apprenticeship programs without attending ETARP,” Roane Alliance stated.