Agencies across Westchester and Fairfield counties have reported improvements in the job market with companies picking up the pace of hiring. But in line with the overarching theme of the post-recession recovery, job growth has not been nearly as aggressive as it once was and the labor market landscape has fundamentally changed.
“I would say overall things have kind of improved on the top end and the bottom end of the spectrum, there is still probably a softness to the market in the middle,” Allison Madison, CEO of Madison Approach Staffing in Elmsford, said. “Things have definitely improved, but obviously if you are looking for a job they certainly haven’t improved fast enough.”
Madison’s agency has been placing part- and full-time employees in companies and organizations ranging from institutional-size healthcare providers to small engineering and accounting firms since 1988. She has watched as the demographics and skills in demand have changed, particularly mid-level, salaried employees during the recession.
“A lot of those people lost their jobs and they haven’t come back in large measure because their bosses picked up their slack and are just kind of maintaining that,” she said. “They brought back more of the lower-end people, so they are growing them into those jobs and just haven’t brought back those more senior-level positions. It is an economic issue, the margins are still paper thin.”
The reliance on temporary and part-time employees to fill portions of positions left vacant by the cutbacks of the recession has begun to give way to long-term hiring in the last year or two, according to Richard Greenwald, president of Concorde staffing agency in White Plains.
“Employers are definitely looking for people for the permanent roles,” he said. “Even temporary employees are being looked at with an eye for a full-time position down the line. Companies are thinking more towards the future and growth.”
Like Madison, Concorde is a small staffing agency matching small- to mid-size companies with employees on a part-time or full-time basis. The company operates throughout the tristate area in sectors including accounting and finance to office support and digital media.
Greenwald has also noticed the change in hiring patterns, with companies holding tight to the tenets of efficiency learned during the recession.
“Companies are being very judicious in who they hire,” he said.
While companies were once willing to hire a less than perfect candidate and mold them into a position, there is now a greater focus on finding a candidate that meets as much of the company’s criteria as possible, he said.
Both Greenwald and Madison see stark differences in hiring patterns depending on industry with job-seekers in tech and healthcare industries particularly empowered at the negotiating table, Madison said.
“If you are a nurse, if you are a developer you can pretty much write your own ticket,” Madison said. “There are certain titles that are in very high demand.”
At the McIntyre Group staffing agency in Norwalk, president and founder Leslie McIntyre has noticed “extremely strong” hiring by her accounting, finance and creative clients.
“An accountant with a CPA will be placed in two to three days,” she said.
Her firm has been in business since 1986, placing candidates in companies big and small throughout New York and Connecticut.
While some sectors are seeing growth, others, such as corporate and administrative services, have “recessed” over the years due to the increasing adoption of technology systems, McIntyre said.
“It’s not that that area isn’t doing well, we just don’t know if we will see robust growth continually as we have seen in the others,” she said.
The demand for some skill sets is so great, particularly in the technology industry, that there is a shortage of candidates, which McIntyre said is representative of a much larger, systemic issue yet to fully impact the job markets.
“We aren’t keeping pace with technology, a lot of these large tech companies, Apple, Google, Microsoft, they are snapping up these people so quickly — offering wonderful perks and benefits — that it makes it very difficult for mid-size companies to find these candidates,” she said. “We have dropped the ball in the entire educational system from soup to nuts, it is a catastrophic failure in the education system, in business — everywhere — and if we don’t address it it’s going to be a huge problem.”
Tech skills are not the only deficiency some staffing agencies are finding with prospective employees.
Among the millennial generation, the 20 to 35 year-olds, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to communication skills and professional demeanor.
“We work on that a lot, which is very different from what we used to work on,” McIntyre said.
Millennials have largely shown a mastery of tech skills from social media platforms to data organization and word-processing, but when it comes to the grammar, spelling, etiquette and an overall professional appearance from handshake to online profiles there is room for improvement, she said.
Similarly, Greenwald has also observed a lack of what he referred to as the “soft skills” of candidates.
“How they present themselves, how they talk to clients, how they answer questions, how they carry themselves and communicate — a lot of people don’t have those skills, it’s not inherent in their background,” he said. “I feel that is the weakest thing I see in people.”
But jobseekers are not alone, Greenwald said, and the amount of support available to them has increased, Greenwald said.
“There is a lot of supports out there in terms of job fairs, resume writing, upgrading your skill sets,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it is still incumbent upon the person. When you are unemployed getting a job is a full-time job, you have to cast a wide net and be very proactive and a lot of people don’t like to do that. You can’t sit back on your hands and think you are going to answer an ad on Craig’s List or Monster or Indeed and think you are going to get a job. I always tell people that come in you have to do that and ten other things also.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.