If you believe blindly in statistics — few in a position of leadership in Rome and Floyd County fall into that category — the unemployment rate for Floyd County at the end of 2011 was 10.4 percent. Layton Roberts, owner of Etowah Employment in Rome, thinks the number in the Rome area might be closer to 7 or 8 percent. Say what?
Roberts is not one of those who shares the theory that the unemployment rate is higher than the official numbers because so many people have gotten so discouraged that they’ve dropped out of the labor force. He feels the number may be lower because such a large number of people simply don’t want to work.
“We have offered people jobs, I’m talking $9.50, $10, $11 an hour-type jobs,” Roberts said. “A lot of people are saying I just don’t want it to interfere with my unemployment.” That’s a mentality that Roberts fear has become far too commonplace in today’s culture.
“Unemployment was meant to be a part-time solution. Instead it’s turned into well, I’m drawing $310 per week on unemployment, why should I take a job?” said Roberts.
He suggests that it is fairly easy to determine when a client is really looking for a job.
“We get so many phone calls per day from people asking you got anything? That’s not actively looking for work,” Roberts said. “Actively looking for work is submitting resumes, filling out job applications and talking to prospective employers.”
The good news for those who are seriously interested in a full-time job is evidence that companies do seem to be hiring again. Roberts said his employment agency is getting job orders in at a rate of 7 percent to 8 percent above last year, and he said that given the condition of the economy, he was pleased with the numbers.
The flip side is that many of the companies that are hiring are still very hesitant to bring someone in full time because of uncertainty related to the political environment.
Roberts feels the heart of the downturn, around 2009, taught all businesses, whether it be education or manufacturing, how to operate lean. Part of operating lean means keeping a close eye on the return on investment for virtually every line item in the profit and loss statement.
“Payroll costs being one of the biggest,” Roberts said. “When you see how much it costs to hire a permanent employee, who that may or may not stay, you’re talking about huge costs.” Roberts said the typical training and benefits package costs 25-30 percent of the employee’s gross annual pay.
Other companies are looking at what’s going to happen with President Obama’s health care package. Companies are waiting to see if the package will be fully implemented. “A lot of companies are saying we just can’t afford to pay benefits or pay the $2,500 penalty (for not offering medical benefits),” Roberts said.
Another trend in manufacturing seems to be the outsourcing of jobs to employment agencies. Etowah Employment has had three companies during the last six weeks call and indicate they were interested in outsourcing all of their employees to the temp firm.
“Whether its the entire organization or specific departments within an organization, because it may be cheaper,” Roberts said. “That’s not a new concept but it’s becoming more prevalent as this economy continues.”
Roberts said an indicator that the economy is showing a slightly stronger pulse locally is that 60 percent of his job orders are for manufacturing or industrial jobs.
“In a typical economy that is a great barometer of when the white collar jobs will start picking up,” Roberts said. “I can’t predict that now. Usually manufacturing will start first followed by clerical, administrative and management jobs.” Roberts said that three years ago his mix of orders would have been 60 percent clerical, administrative and managerial to 40 percent manufacturing.
While the number of jobs is picking up, Roberts said that with so many people out of work, companies are able to be much more particular about who they hire.
The job finder said he wishes he could provide jobs for everyone who comes through his door. “If I placed everybody coming in the door, we would process 3,000 to 4,000 W-2s next year,” Roberts said. That would mean he’d have to bring on more employees himself.