Some Bloomington business leaders said they believe the pandemic has accelerated labor force trends and shifted dynamics to the detriment of employers — and to the benefit of workers.
“I think it’s going to be a buyer’s market for the employees,” said Timber Tucker, owner of Express Employment Professionals, which has offices in Bloomington and Evansville and helps connect businesses with job seekers.
Tucker took over the business shortly before the financial crisis of 2007-08, and he spent lots of time reaching out to businesses to find jobs for people. Since then, however, the market has flipped, and now employers from restaurants to high-tech companies are scrambling for workers.
In addition, the nation’s education system has largely moved away from vocational training and instead advocated for people to go to college, and the resulting labor shortage especially has hurt manufacturers, Tucker said.
“I think the trend away from technical education over the last 40 years or so has caught up with us in a big way,” he said.
To be sure, Tucker said, manufacturers are not blameless in their struggles as they have alienated people through stagnant wages, offshoring, outsourcing and automation.
Tucker said the pandemic also has taught office-based businesses very quickly that productivity can remain high even when people work from home. Many such employers are changing the way that they think about the work week and are focusing less on time spent at the keyboard and more on performance metrics.
At Tucker’s business, the roughly 20 employees now work six to seven hours per day — so long as their output remains the same. Tucker can determine that by looking how many employees they placed, or how long those employees stayed in the new job.
Employees at Express Employment Professionals get base pay and some commission, so people who want more pay can work more if they choose.
“It’s really trying to allow the employees the flexibility to have the life they want,” Tucker said.
The importance of employer flexibility is rising especially among Bloomington businesses that are competing for knowledge workers, as many of them can work remotely from Berkeley, Boston — or Barbados.
Ari Vidali, founder and CEO of Bloomington-based Acadis, said the dearth of available personnel with backgrounds in technology, programming and cybersecurity represents the company’s largest risk factor.
“This is the most brutal job market that I’ve seen in my 20 years doing this,” he said.
Acadis provides software to first responders, public safety professionals and the U.S. Department of Defense to improve training, compliance and performance.
The ability to work remotely and the company’s September acquisition by Tampa-based Vector Solutions has enabled Acadis to recruit across the continental U.S. However, that wider net also requires the company to pay higher wages, as it is now competing for talent with companies in Silicon Valley and Boston — and in some cases getting into bidding wars.
The labor pool has been tightened further by federal immigration policies that make recruiting foreign knowledge workers more difficult, Vidali said.
Acadis has struggled in part because the tight labor market is coinciding with significant company growth. Vidali said the company has doubled in size in the last 36 months.
Acadis, too, now focuses more on whether employees reach benchmarks than how long they work. The company has instituted an unlimited-paid-time-off policy, which, Vidalis said, essentially lets people set their own work hours.
“We find that people are more productive when they can manage their own work-life balance,” he said.
That approach brings challenges, though, especially for a business that employees people in several time zones. Collaboration remains important for the business — and for people’s mental health, Vidali said.
Both Tucker and Vidali said they have one advantage over other companies: They offer not just jobs, but a career with a mission. Tucker said his employees help other people find careers, which means they change people’s lives. Vidali said his employees help public safety professionals save lives.
Being able to sell employees on that mission has been helpful, Vidali said, especially at a time when employees have lots of options.
Boris Ladwig is the city government reporter for The Herald-Times. Contact him at [email protected].