Labor Shortages, Hiring Efforts Compounded By Unemployment Benefits, Safety Protocols

Date: Monday, October 12, 2020
Source: Furniture Today

HIGH POINT — As furniture retailers and manufacturers continue to tackle the “new normal” during the pandemic, and the rush of customer demand for home furnishings that has come with it, labor shortages have appeared throughout.

“It’s not an easy market to hire in at all,” said Anderson Gibbons, vice president of marketing for fabric resource Specialty Textiles Inc. “A lot of people are hiring, and a lot of people are not looking to find a new job, even if they are unemployed.”

Reasons to stay unemployed

More specifically, many members of the workforce, according to research from groups such as Gartner, are opting not to seek out employment during the pandemic out of concern over being in public and working with other people.

Unemployment payouts have also been better than in years past for many Americans, with citizens across the country receiving $1,200 stimulus checks and unemployed folks receiving an extra $600 each week from the federal government to supplement their state unemployment payment in the first several months of the pandemic.

Hiring also has become very competitive during the coronavirus pandemic. As all industries feel the pressures of returning customers and seek to hire employees to fill positions initially lost during the pandemic or created by a consumer rise in demand following it (the U.S. economy regained 1.4 million jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to 8.4% from 10.2% last month), recruitment is getting more aggressive.

To fill manufacturing jobs in Detroit, for example, many companies have had to begin offering large signing bonuses to keep up with competitors in similar entry-level positions at companies such as Wendy’s, where Crain’s Detroit reports the fast food chain is offering $450 signing bonuses at several locations around the city and Amazon a $1,000 bonus for new employees.

Several employers also report that employees and potential hires are just opting to quit in favor of opportunities closer to home or with more unique benefits like flexible hours, preferred shift availability and more compatible medical and/or dental benefits.

Complicated, difficult

While this competitive labor market is not something new to many members of the home furnishings industry, the problem has become more complicated.

Early in the summer, following the reopening of all its locations, HOM Furniture’s Kyle Johansen, executive director of merchandising for the Minneapolis-based retailer, noted that the company was struggling to fill number of positions throughout its organization. He also said it had always been difficult to do so.

“It’s hard to think today about what the rate of unemployment was like six months ago, but in the state of Minnesota it was basically 0%,” said Johansen. “Officially, it was like 2.4%, so no one could hire any qualified people in the state. Before the pandemic we had more than 100 job openings that couldn’t be filled, so unfortunately this (pandemic) has just made hiring that much more difficult.”

Johansen credits the struggle to fill positions before COVID-19 to the area’s higher average salaries, the presence of many Fortune 500 companies and a relatively small transfer rate of new people to the area from other states. Now, the problem has compounded.

North Carolina-based Kimbrell’s did not have a hard time staffing its managerial and retail sales associate positions for its new Wilmington, N.C., location that opened in early September following months of delays related to COVID-19. But it did struggle to find delivery workers who were interested and qualified to receive insurance.

“Coronavirus hasn’t made anything easier for us just overall,” said Jerry Peters, Kimbrell’s vice president of marketing and sales.

The sharp rise in demand for product also has also not made the task of hiring simpler for the home furnishings industry.

According to a report from, New York-based retailer Raymour & Flanigan, with 126 stores and 20 distribution centers, is seeking to hire 1,000 workers in roles including delivery, truck driving, warehousing, customer service, sales, call center, IT and more. While the retail chain had openings before the coronavirus set in, the surge in product demand has left the company with even bigger hiring holes to fill to keep new business running smoothly.

Hiring ‘safely’

But, in addition to the challenges with attracting large numbers of new candidates, companies are also facing problems with running interviews and screening procedures safely.

To continue hosting hiring fairs, STI moved its hiring drives outdoors, a move it called “necessary” as its “biggest challenge right now is finding and hiring people during the pandemic,” according to Gibbons.

“We call it a ‘drive-in hire event,’” explained Gibbons. “So it all takes place in tents outside, and folks get to move on from tent-to-tent as they make it through the different steps.”

Although the process is new, Gibbons said it is working well for STI, which has seen double-digit growth from its traditional customer base over the past 12 weeks, and is still looking for new equipment and employees to help fulfill those orders.

“I really have to commend our HR department for thinking of extremely clever ways to interview and hire employees with minimal contact,” he said. “We just finished our second event, and it brought in more than 35 new employees. And we’re looking for more.

“We can’t grow our business without our people.”

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