The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is led by a Board of Directors with expertise that represents a broad cross-section of the regional economy. LVEDC Director and Allied Personnel Services Vice President Susan Larkin, who has more than two decades of experience in the staffing industry, recently shared her insights about the employment challenges businesses face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Please tell us about Allied Personnel Services and your role there.
A: Since 1984 Allied has been providing staffing and employment solutions to Lehigh Valley employers. We develop long-term partnerships with our clients, and many of the area’s most successful companies have been clients for 30+ years. A key to Allied’s success is our ability to deliver ti
mely and effective talent solutions that are flexible to quickly adjust to changing market conditions.
My role as Vice President is to oversee operations and to consult with our clients, developing strategic staffing programs and sharing critical labor market information based on the diverse insight and experience I’ve gained over my 25 years as an executive in the staffing industry.
Q: Before the pandemic, when unemployment was at record low levels, attracting and retaining talent was the biggest issue facing employers. How has the pandemic changed employer perspectives on the importance of talent supply?
A: The pandemic has elevated employers’ awareness of how fragile the talent supply is and how a high rate of unemployment doesn’t always equate to a robust talent supply. Because of the strong distribution and biotech sectors in our area, layoffs in those areas were not as significant. Add to that the challenges families face finding child care, the fears surrounding a return to work in the face of COVID, and the financial incentives offered through FCCRA [Families First Coronavirus Response Act] and unemployment, and the supply of available talent hasn’t significantly increased. Retaining talent has really become an even bigger focus. Keeping the hardworking, reliable, skilled employees on staff is critical to success when industries see a return to prior levels of workload.
Q: What types of jobs do employers need to fill during the quarantine economy and how do you expect that to change as restrictions are eased?
A: There continues to be a demand for skilled manufacturing roles, logistics staff, and scientific roles like quality control and lab work. As restrictions ease, we expect to see the offices and smaller businesses rebound with a corresponding increase in demand across all skill levels.
Q: What role did school closures and the availability of child care play on employment during the pandemic and how will that affect the local economy as the economy opens back up?
A: It is an extremely difficult hurdle for families. Some people were forced to leave the workforce completely to stay home with small children. Others that had the luxury of moving to a work from home arrangement were forced to figure out how to both educate their own children and keep up with their own work. If daycares and schools do not reopen in the fall, this will have a long-term negative impact on the talent supply and productivity of at home workers. Workers will require increased flexibility for child and family care and employers should be prepared to adapt to accommodate these new employee needs.
Q: Explain why enhanced employment benefits may be a challenge for some employers to find workers?
A: Enhanced employment benefits were intended to provide workers affected by the pandemic with immediate, significant financial assistance to allow them to remain home during the stay-at-home order. Unfortunately for essential businesses that have continued to operate, these enhanced benefits have had the unintended consequence of incentivizing people not to work. Many are able to make significantly more money each week with unemployment than they could earn with the jobs available to them. This has made recruiting for all types and levels of employees a challenge.
Q: How does social distancing and more rigorous disinfecting impact the number of workers an employer can hire even if there is demand for the product or service?
A: Complying with the ever-evolving CDC and OSHA guidelines has forced companies to rapidly adjust their operations. Hiring, training, scheduling and workflows have all been adapted, and in some cases the number of workers able to work in certain areas has been reduced in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. There have been some opportunities created with increased needs for sanitation and medical screening workers. We’ve seen our clients reacting well to these new challenges, and certainly those who are able to pivot to a new normal quickly will see a quicker recovery.
Q: How does the Lehigh Valley talent supply initiative position the region coming out of the COVID-19?
A: The LVEDC Talent Supply Initiative recognized the need to prioritize building a strong workforce before COVID-19, and the work around developing and retaining talent will easily be able to be applied to the post-COVID labor market. Areas such as career pathways, internships, and apprenticeships will all be vital in reshaping the workforce as we move forward, and the work that has been done in these areas already has prepared the Lehigh Valley to respond to the new challenges that employers will face.
Living through a pandemic is not something anyone expects to do. Pandemics are the things of movies, not something that happens in real life. Without having any real-world experience with anything remotely similar to this, there are many questions about what to expect and just as much uncertainty about working during a time like this. Even with all of this, essential businesses remain open and people continue to go to work on a daily basis.
Every business within the United States is required to follow guidelines set in place to maintain a safe work environment. These guidelines have grown tremendously in the last few months with temporary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The way these guidelines are followed is different for each business depending on the company size and the nature of the business. Based on conversations with both current essential workers and the employers they work for, here’s what to expect when returning to work.
- Symptom Awareness: Many businesses have implemented daily temperature checking routines. The majority of this is done on the arrival of all employees and guests, while other companies have multiple checks throughout the day. At some businesses, a COVID-19 questionnaire must be completed by new employees and visitors upon arrival asking if they are showing any of the current symptoms identified by the CDC and if they have been exposed to anyone diagnosed with Coronavirus. Only those who pass both of these checks are allowed to enter the business.
- Social Distancing: All businesses are required to enforce social distancing, ensuring employees maintain a distance of six feet whenever possible. In the most extreme cases, entire companies have emptied their sites of workers, forcing many employees to work from home. Of those who are able to continue working on-site, they are doing so with adjusted operations. Companies have created new shifts or modified work hours to allow for less staff to come in direct contact with each other. Breaks are now staggered or break areas have been expanded to spread out workers. Warehouses have adjusted the way work is completed, with the number of employees operating a machine or working on a line decreasing significantly. In some locations, visual pieces have been added to the manufacturing lines to assist in maintaining a six-foot distance.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): With the latest state mandate, every company open to the public within Pennsylvania now must require all essential staff and visitors to wear a mask while on site. Some may also require employees to wear gloves, which are to be frequently changed or cleaned. These are generally provided by the company and are to be worn at all times within the business.
- Cleaning: Businesses have started implemented more rigorous cleaning. In larger companies, extra staff has been hired to ensure that all surfaces are being disinfected regularly throughout the workday. Smaller businesses have provided staff with cleaning supplies that can be used to disinfect work stations or communal areas.
- Atmosphere: With everyone in our community going through this together, there is a stronger sense of unity. Employees are working more as a team than ever before to ensure work is being completed efficiently and safely. People who remain working are thankful for the position they have and have a positive outlook on each and every day.
There are many fears surrounding starting a new job and those fears have only grown with COVID-19. Having the knowledge of what to expect on your first day and the information on what is being done to keep employees safe makes things much easier.
Although things are nowhere near what they were a few months ago, people are adapting to the current way of life. This new sense of normalcy has taken time to get used to, but it is manageable. People and companies continue to function and life carries on.
Allied Personnel Services’ offices are open! We are available Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm by appointment only. You can call or text us at 610.821.0220 (Allentown) or 610.253.9779 (Easton), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or apply online.
Information for Employees
Information for Businesses
COVID-19 Patient Facing Hotline @ 1-888-402-5846, option 3.
The Lehigh Valley Health Network can perform testing for COVID-19, but other causes for respiratory tract infections must be investigated in addition to COVID-19. Several sites are currently available for testing, if further evaluation is needed.
Local Health Bureaus should be called if there is reported contact with COVID-19.
Allentown Health Bureau: 610-437-7760
Bethlehem Health Bureau: 610-865-7083
The Pennsylvania Department of Health: 1-877-724-3258
Do you know the difference between a watch and a warning? Is a storm warning the same as a blizzard warning? Winter is upon us in the Lehigh Valley, so it’s important to understand the terms used to forecast the weather.
Familiarize yourself with the following weather alerts so you know what actions you may need to take:
- Winter storm watch: Be alert, a storm is likely
- Winter weather advisory: Experts expect conditions to cause significant hazards, especially to motorists
- Frost/freeze warning: Experts expect below-freezing temperatures and damage to plants, crops or fruit trees
- Winter storm warning: Take action, a storm is entering—or is already in—the area
- Blizzard warning: The combination of snow and strong winds will produce blinding snow, near-zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill—seek refuge immediately
With the Farmer’s Almanac predicting a “Polar Coaster” this winter for the Northeast, it’s going to be important to understand the differences and be prepared. Some other resources to help you get through the winter:
2019 marks Allied’s 35th year serving the Lehigh Valley, and we are humbled by another Reader’s Choice win. The commitment and hard work of our staff and temporary employees continues to set Allied apart as the top staffing service in the Lehigh Valley.
Thank you to everyone that voted for us!
By DENNIS NISHI
While her friends interned at big investment-banking firms, Molly Heitzman chose a summer job in 2009 with Fundación Paraguaya, a microfinance company in Asuncion, Paraguay. She believed that giving the poor access to basic banking services was an effective way to fight poverty, and she’d also gain some global work experience.
The nonprofit was experiencing an abnormally high 13% loan default rate so Ms. Heitzman went out to investigate the problem. She discovered that many small businesses had defaulted because of poor to nonexistent accounting practices.
“I proposed a program that would school borrowers in the business basics of marketing, accounting and saving money,” she says, uncertain as to whether the organization used her ideas.
Ms. Heitzman’s efforts actually made a stronger impression on Deloitte Consulting in Minneapolis, which hired her for a full-time job as a business analyst a year later in 2010.
Although career experts say college graduates will continue to face a tough job market in the new year, volunteering for nonprofit work like the Peace Corps can fill an experience gap and provide a competitive advantage. That’s especially the case since nonprofit work can be like an accelerated management course. Volunteers are often pressed into management and administrative roles they might otherwise not attain for years at for-profit companies.
First, find a nonprofit organization that you’re interested in working with since commitment to the job and the cause is important, says Mark Lonergan, founder of the Redwood City, Calif.-based recruiting firm Lonergan Partners.
“Any way you can show that you genuinely applied yourself in a very important way can count as a very important component of any résumé,” he says. “Employers want to know that you were serious about the work.”
Seek out roles that offer transferable experience. Managing volunteers, for example, to build an irrigation system in Honduras is relatable to many different for-profit job duties. Working as a museum docent may be harder to sell.
Be prepared to aggressively promote and even defend your nonprofit experience during interviews. There is still a stigma associated with nonprofit work at some companies, career experts say.
Turn your more esoteric experiences into a narrative that illustrates how you overcame obstacles and achieved goals. People respond well to stories. Highlight the intangibles that employers are always looking for during interviews.
Emphasize your flexibility, communication skills and ability to deal with ambiguity, says Patricia Tourigny, vice president of talent acquisition for Avon, Conn.-based Magellan Health Services. “We don’t see a lot of entry-level résumés with that kind of experience, but when we do, we take notice. And we’re always looking for it.”
The pay for volunteer work may be negligible but full-time volunteers can defer or even have federal student loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program from 2007. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t help with private student loans.