By Robert Gray El Paso Inc. staff writer
El Paso staffing agency Integrated Human Capital has many job openings and finds some incredibly hard to fill.
T&T Staff Management says it has to reach out to 50 people to get five to show up for an interview.
Some workers who do accept a job then quickly leave the position, says RMPersonnel Inc.
Even as joblessness remains high in El Paso, 10.2 percent in October, a surprising number of local staffing agencies report they can’t find workers to fill a good number of positions.
It’s “really goofy” says Amber Vargas, human resources manager at RMPersonnel, headquartered in El Paso. She has worked at the staffing agency for 14 years.
The agencies say there are many reasons. Workers have less motivation to work as unemployment benefits have been extended, they say.
Also, many workers aren’t qualified to fill positions that have become increasingly technical in nature and require skill sets that El Paso’s workforce hasn’t had historically.
“You have people who refuse the job and don’t show up for interviews,” says Hector Enriquez, business development executive at T &T Staff Management headquartered in El Paso. The agency has 500 clients that generate about $200 million in payroll annually.
Some of those refusing job offers are workers who are passing up less desirable job offers in hopes of finding “the perfect job” Enriquez says.
In general, job seekers have become more optimistic, especially after recent reports that the U.S. unemployment rate fell in November to its lowest level in 32 months, and the number willing to settle on a job has declined further.
“How about the fact that there is hope out there? The labor force has hope in the fact that the economy will turn around, so you might not go for that $19.50 an hour job and hold out for a better salary,” Enriquez says.
A nationwide survey of laid-off workers suggests those holding out for “the perfect job” are in the minority.
The survey, published last month by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, found that 80 percent of respondents who receive unemployment benefits are willing to take a cut in pay in order to get a new job.
Executives with El Paso staffing agencies say the extension of unemployment benefits has also made it harder to fill positions. Workers that collect unemployment benefits are less likely to take whatever job comes along, they say.
The Texas Workforce Commission recently announced that unemployment benefits in Texas will be extended, effective Sunday (Dec. 11). That means the unemployed in Texas can receive support for up to 99 weeks, 26 at the state level and the rest at the federal level.
The benefits from the federal government are set to expire at the end of the year and more than 5,500 El Pasoans stand to lose the benefit if they are not extended by Congress, an El Paso Inc. analysis of Texas Workforce Commission data show.
The increase in unemployment benefit claims since the economy slid into recession in 2008 has strained the Texas Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, which has led to higher unemployment taxes.
As a result, Vargas with RMPersonnel says they have had to raise the fees they charge some of their clients, which makes it harder to compete with the very large national staffing agencies that can better absorb the costs.
The trend has turned recently, and overall, the number of unemployment claims in El Paso County has declined since 2010, dropping from 14,072 in 2010 to 13,398 this year.
The unemployment tax will also drop slightly for many Texas employers next year, although it remains much higher than pre recession levels, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Rosa Santana, CEO and owner of Integrated Human Capital, says there is another reason it’s hard to fill some positions at the same time that unemployment has remained high.
A long-time effort to increase salaries in El Paso by growing a healthcare industry here and attracting companies with skilled jobs is paying off, and the El Paso economy is transforming, Santana says. But the local workforce hasn’t kept up with the needs, she says.
That has created a glut of jobs that workers here aren’t qualified for.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of people to present to clients to fill those needs,” Santana says. She has worked in El Paso’s staffing industry for 30 years.
“We are moving to a very different base of jobs that El Paso will have in the future,” she adds.
All of the staffing agencies interviewed for this article agreed the positions that are hardest to fill in El Paso are those related to the healthcare industry, and some of the positions that are more technical in nature.
“Today, we do need to look at the quality of the workforce. We need to encourage the education of the workforce,” Enriquez says.
In El Paso, the jobless rate fell slightly to 10.2 percent in October, from 10.5 percent the month before. That compares to a Texas jobless rate of 8.4 percent in October.
But the decline in the jobless rate in El Paso is not necessarily good news, says Raul Muñoz, a labor market analyst with Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande.
As the jobless rate fell, employers shed 1,200 jobs, suggesting some job seekers in El Paso have become discouraged and dropped out of the job market altogether, according to Muñoz.
The November numbers for El Paso aren’t due out until next Friday, but, nationally, the U.S. jobless rate dipped to 8.6 percent in November, the lowest level since the economic slide in March 2009.