March 20, 2022
Have Job, Need Workers
A Look at the Post-Pandemic Price Hikes and Labor Shortages in Lakewood
Thumbing through the Lakewood job advertisements is a sensational experience. The ads are so vibrant and luring that you can almost smell the coffee smoking off the pages. Perks and benefits abound; smiling emojis beckon your interest. Employers have ramped up their hiring processes and applied genius marketing tactics in an effort to draw in more staff.
Lakewood businesses have rebounded post-pandemic in a strong, almost defiant way, and for the most part, they have been picking up speed ever since. Moreover, countless businesses from out of state have relocated here, bringing the level of commerce in our town to an all-time high. It’s been said in jest that the must-have Manhattan PO box has transitioned to a coveted spot in Lakewood Industrial Park. Indeed, towers of office space shoot up in mere months to accommodate this need.Businesses are growing and welcoming new ones.
Up until recently, there was a healthy equilibrium between job openings and candidates, but when Covid struck, many jobs remained unfilled due to the unemployment benefits that kept so many workers at home. While many employees have since reentered the workforce, Lakewood’s fantastic growth means that Lakewood CEOs and owners require even more hands on deck to service and promote this expansion.
An unequal playing field
Kayla Pruzansky of PR Careers has successfully paired job seekers with employees for years now.
“Employers are desperate for good workers, and employees want good jobs,” she shares.
What defines a good worker, and why are they so scarce?
Kayla explains that a “good worker,” or an upper-level employee, is one with previous office experience and is devoted, competent, and reliable. The upper-level employee’s work is well beyond entry level, requiring skill, but isn’t yet an executive position. These workers generally fall into the $50–60K annual salary bracket. Several CEOs have shared the sentiment that while there may be a lot of executive positions and applicants with proper experience, there seems to be a lack of qualified upper-level workers. The need for this kind of work is high and has become especially tough to procure.
But the need isn’t limited to upper-level workers. The number of job openings has snowballed recently, leaving companies scrounging for employees. New businesses seek talent, energy, and experience as they roll out their business plans in New Jersey. Kayla has seen employers offering a constant stream of open positions as their operations grow at breakneck speed.
“Employees are begging us for more workers, and there aren’t enough people to go around,” she says.
On the other side of the desk, employees are being more selective than ever when choosing where to work. “It has become the norm today to be picky about which job you will choose, resulting in workers actually waiting in between jobs to chance upon their dream position. In today’s environment, girls returning from seminary are encouraged by their parents and mentors not to settle on any job, and they wait to hit the jackpot job.”
This mentality slows the hiring process and applies pressure on the employers to bump up their benefits. Furthermore, new hires feel that they can demand full benefits and higher salaries. These demands have creeped into the realm of standing employees, some of whom have been with their companies for decades. They want more benefits, better perks, and higher salaries.
The inflation factor has exacerbated this issue on all ends, making what previously seemed to be an outrageous demand a normal one. Employees want higher pay rates due to increased costs.
A smart employer will negotiate a comfortable arrangement for both sides as opposed to losing a quality employee.
What can we expect going forward?
Kayla says the inflation piece and competitive market are here to stay for now, and all sides need to adjust and accommodate. In the meantime,CEOs are vying for quality workers and will go to great lengths to bring them in their door, including paying high rates for constant advertising and investing in private recruiters.
“In a set-up like today’s, where there is a struggle for good workers, everyone has to be vigilant that they are recruiting and hiring properly. PR Careers has a written contract with every employer which states that we won’t assist any PR Careers-placed employee in seeking a new job unless they already have given notice of leave. I also won’t reach out to standing employees with potential offers unless they have reached out to me on their own. It’s our responsibility as a community to assist each other in being successful by following the halachic and professional guidelines in these areas.”
Mrs. Yocheved Galy, director of human resources at Oorah, relates that the need for their popular programs has grown by leaps and bounds, but there is a lack of hands on deck to bring those programs to actualization.
It’s been an uphill battle, and the fabulous team at Oorah has taken measures to ramp up their hiring process. Besides raising current employees’ salaries due to inflation, the Oorah marketing team has put a lot of thought into branding their hiring process.
“Instead of letting talent go to waste, we expand our horizons and create jobs for the talented new hires as opposed to hiring for specific positions,” Yocheved shares. “While we are very selective in our hiring process, we see the value in this approach now more than ever. If a talented person walks through our door today, we make every effort to see if we have a role for them in the organization.”
Like other companies, Oorah realized it was time to adjust and rework much of its hiring process. Sometimes it means parsing additional work to those who are more capable; other times it means creating greater automation. At yet other times, it requires evaluation of necessities—do we really need this?
As a takeaway thought, Mrs. Galy advises fellow executives, “Be creative in your hiring strategy, but don’t compromise your standards.”
Lakewood day cares and schools are experiencing their share of struggles too. Mrs. Zeesy Munk, longtime director of Spark Preschool, works passionately to ensure that her day care’s environment is one of warmth, positivity, and growth. She adores the children and firmly believes that working with them offers a very fulfilling and meaningful job.
One of her biggest challenges has been finding qualified substitutes, since subs who had been previously freelancing were not seeking employment until recently, when their unemployment bonus payments stopped.
Thankfully, the State of New Jersey understood the childcare teacher shortage and has recently provided day cares with funds to offer retention and sign-up bonuses of upward of $1,000 per employee. Mrs. Munk is thrilled to show her dedicated and talented staff appreciation in this expansive way, and it has certainly enhanced her staff retention and hiring processes.
A lack of qualified teachers and substitutes is evident in our schools as well. Long-term substitutes are especially hard to come by.
Shortages in various educational institutions can be interconnected. For example, after Mrs. Friedman accepted a job as a long-term substitute for a fifth-grade teacher, she simply could not find an available babysitter for her one-year-old. With no choice, she notified the principal that she had to turn down the job. But the principal—a busy, respectable woman—wouldn’t hear of it and spent numerous hours on the phone calling over 50 people in an attempt to find a babysitter for Mrs. Friedman’s child so that she could come in to teach.
Talk about high in demand.
Go ahead, try purchasing a fridge. Wondering why it’s 50 percent more expensive than the last one you bought? Welcome to the 2022 labor shortage.
Businesses in every arena are feeling the labor pinch, which gives way to price increases and leaves both sides of the equation unhappy. To be clear, business owners don’t want to raise prices; they know it causes disgruntled customers. But the current situation often leaves them with no choice.
Mr. Shmeel Teller of Shmeel’s Piping LLC shares, “Supplies and parts are at an all-time production low. Due to labor shortages in the factories, the production of commonly used parts is extremely backed up.”
This is due to laborers who are staying away from factories due to health concerns. Of course, the lack of labor slows production of both final products and the raw material necessary to produce much-needed parts. Mr. Teller has seen customers wait for parts of common household items for up to two months.
In a recent incident, Mr. Teller went to a popular supply warehouse to pick up a part for a customer. When he was ready to check out, the store manager informed him that he could only take two of the new parts that came in, in order leave some for other customers. In another incident, a client had a dripping faucet for three weeks because the part they needed was back-ordered.
The shortage has trickled down the chain, stoking the inflation fire, and consumers aren’t pleased.
As far as workers go, Mr. Teller is feeling the lack in a big way. He echoes the voices of thousands of business owners out there: no one wants to work, and everyone wants double pay. Bear in mind that the workers who are making these demands are not necessarily skilled.
Nevertheless, Mr. Teller remains determined to make his customers happy and will get on his hands and knees to be sure a client is satisfied with their plumbing needs.
Mr. Teller’s challenges are reflected in almost every other industry, from health to construction, office management to education. Laborers who man the factories, ports, and warehouses, both on American shores and abroad, have been a strong presence in the supply chain up until relatively recently. These workers were for the most part meticulous and hardworking, reliable and available. They would man the weaving machines, unload the forklifts, and process the shipments. With the decrease in this aspect of the workforce, the oxygen of the supply chain had been cut off, spurring delays, raising prices, and offsetting the once-healthy supply-and-demand equation.
For example, when the Port of San Francisco is not operating at maximum capacity, containers of much-needed goods float on the water for days as they wait to be docked, accounted for, and disassembled for distribution. The American companies that are awaiting their goods are forced to pay extra labor costs to receive their prized merchandise, thus raising prices further.
The retail world in Lakewood has its own story to tell as the store owners and devoted staff maintain their regular business hours and services.
Mr. Baruch Cherkok, store manager at A.I. Stone, is a veteran in the men’s clothing retail field. With a massive warehouse to oversee in addition to year-round retail management, Baruch has seen his share of labor shortages.
“Earlier on this year, we needed additional employees. We advertised but were not successful in hiring,” he says. “The responses were few and far between, and the few candidates that applied wanted remote work.”
The A.I. Stone warehouse was forced to manage with a skeleton crew, with existing workers putting in more hours to compensate for the lack of much-needed employees. The staff worked tirelessly to service the customers and keep the store functioning as efficiently as always.
Of course, shipment delays are an issue as well—during the past Sukkos season, the entire shipment from overseas was delayed and only arrived once the shopping season was over, resulting in a loss of hundreds of purchases that season. Such a scenario can potentially wipe about any store that relies heavily on seasonal purchases.
“When we are expecting a shipment, we are notified when it gets to the port. How long it will take to get to us is anyone’s guess,” Mr. Cherkok shares. “The global labor shortage has trickled down to every employee and every item, and our local stores are trying their best to weather the storm.”
With labor shortages at an all-time high and prices soaring ever higher, here’s hoping the tides will shift soon to a healthier, more balanced state.
Hiring in Halachah
The concentrated need for workers in Lakewood requires potential employers to clarify the halachic ramifications when offering jobs to already employed employees. Rav Baruch Schoss of Chaburas Choshen Mishpat in Bais Medrash Govoha answers some common questions on the topic of hasagas gevul.
Question: Mrs. Harris is a recruiter for an insurance agency and is looking to hire new staff. She will receive a commission for every successful hire that she brings in. Is she allowed to approach employees at other agencies and offer them better salaries?
Answer: No. This is an issur of uni hamhapich b’charra.1
Question: What if Mrs. Harris will not receive any benefits; she is just trying to help the insurance agency? In that case, is she allowed to approach employees that are employed at other agencies?
Question: Mrs. Frank is currently employed at a real estate management company and is unhappy with her job; she wants shorter hours, better pay, and a better location. She approaches Mrs. Sanders and asks her if she knows of any jobs that fit what she is looking for. Is Mrs. Sanders permitted to tell Mrs. Frank about a job opening, being that it will cause her to leave her current job?
Answer: Yes. The issur above does not apply to an employee that is looking for other opportunities on their own accord. (The issur is uni hamhapich b’charra, and here the charra is running away by itself).3
Note: The above is a general outline of these halachos. However, there are exceptions. For practical halachah, one should consult with a competent dayan.