January 20, 2022

Cortland businesses struggle in search for job applicants

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Brandy Whible works Tuesday at a mill at Forkey Construction Co. in Cortlandville. Employers have been having difficulty hiring for openings across the greater Cortland area.

The holiday season can be expensive for many people, with an increase in travel, gatherings and gift-giving traditions. If you’re looking for a new job or some extra cash, you don’t need to look far — many Cortland County businesses are struggling to fill job openings.

Brian Reynolds, general manager at Forkey Construction and Fabrication in Cortlandville, said the business has experienced a shortage of labor throughout the pandemic.

“We have quite a few areas that we need to fill, particularly in our machining area and we could use a few in our welding department,” Reynolds said.

For people looking for seasonal job openings, such as students on winter break, positions at tourism-based businesses and delivery services often look for extra hands this time of year, said Garry VanGorder, executive director and CEO of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency.

Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Haight said restaurants and retail businesses are always looking for additional help around the holidays, however, filling temporary or seasonal positions won’t help businesses in the long run.

“The majority of our businesses locally have been in a state of searching for good employees for months now,” Haight said.

Jobless claims have dropped nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, falling below their pre-pandemic levels. In Cortland County, the unemployment rate for October is down to 4.2% from October 2020’s 5%, but up from the 3.7% of October 2019, according to the state Department of Labor.
That comes as the labor pool has shrunk 6.3% in two years. The Labor Department said Cortland County had 20,900 workers in October, down from 21,200 in October 2020 and 22,300 two years ago.

“There are definitely opportunities out there,” Haight said. “And now, we’re hearing about entry-level wages that are higher than ever with room for advancement.”

Haight said he hopes to see more Cortland County residents apply for local jobs and contribute to the local economy.

“The fact is that many employers these days need more help in general — holiday season or not — and employers’ needs are generally not being met by a labor force more content to stay on the sidelines than to take permanent positions, let alone for just a few weeks,” VanGorder said.

At the Cortland Works Career Center, employment and training specialists can help job seekers assess their career needs, skills and interests, and will work with applicants through their job search.

“We are hearing from job seekers that they are filling out applications, but are not getting called for interviews,” said Amy Buggs, director of the Cayuga-Cortland Workforce Development Board.

Although pandemic-related unemployment benefits ended in September, Forkey isn’t quite back to the pre-pandemic standard.

“People seem to be looking for employment and getting back into the workforce,” Reynolds said. “But right now we don’t have any applications.”

Reynolds said they’re always hiring, yet they struggle to find anyone to apply. Open positions range from machining and welding to saw operators and parts cleaners.

“A big thing here is that we can bring people in and work with them to help them get the skill they need if they don’t already have them,” Reynolds said. “We have the ability and a great staff here that can help train people to become perhaps lifelong employees depending on what they want to do.”