Low unemployment numbers in Oregon and around the nation can mean a change of pace for those that help others find work — employment and staffing agencies.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oregon’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent as of October 2018, about the same as the national rate.
Temp services in agricultural areas like Hermiston are affected somewhat by those rates, but their activity tends to be more cyclical.
Kristin Connell, manager at Express Employment Professionals in Hermiston, said low unemployment rates have stemmed the flow of people using their services to find jobs compared to the numbers they saw about four years ago.
But she said their business tends to depend more seasonal job trends, specific to the economy of Eastern Oregon.
During summer and fall, they tend to see more employers looking to fill positions than they have available employees, especially in agricultural jobs. In winter, when harvest season ends, few places are hiring and there tend to be more job-seekers than openings.
Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers from 2017 state that out of a workforce of 36,924 in Umatilla County, 35,139 people were employed.
Express, a national service with multiple branches in Oregon, is one of a few staffing agencies in Umatilla County. Other employment services include Worksource Eastern Oregon, which includes some public and private agencies, as well as some agricultural staffing agencies such as Atkinson Staffing.
Connell said Express currently has about 213 active associates and about 53 business clients to whom they supply workers. Clients include large manufacturers as well as small companies with just two or three clients. About 75 percent of their clients are businesses that involve some sort of physical labor, like manufacturing, agriculture, construction or food processing. The other 25 are administrative roles, including office jobs with agricultural or manufacturing companies.
During a conversation that usually lasts no more than an hour, employment specialists will find out as much as they can about the person’s desired job, such as minimum pay, how much they want to work and how far they’re willing to commute (Express covers clients in Umatilla and Morrow counties). They discuss the person’s skills, things they do or don’t want to do, and their work history. Applicants are given a conditional offer of employment with Express, which then seeks out jobs for them.
The employee’s relationship with Express could last anywhere from a few months to several years.
“Some associates only want temp work,” Connell said. “Some client partners don’t ever hire our employees, and they keep them on our payroll forever.”
Some associates have done temp work through the agency for two or three years, Connell said.
With lower unemployment numbers, the applicant pool gets less varied, said Connell, and they see more applicants with the same skill sets.
“The types of people we’re seeing, we already have 20 just like them,” she said. “Maybe they’re entry-level, not a lot of skills.”
Skills, she said, can include forklift operators or refrigeration technicians, or someone with office skills, like bilingual administrative assistants.
“Those people aren’t necessarily looking for work; they’re already employed,” she said.
The average wage for jobs through Express is currently $15.09 an hour, Connell said.
The majority of the associates who come in seeking jobs are recently laid off or have just moved to the area, but there are a few retired people who will take seek out temp jobs, looking for variety.
David Pichcuskie is one of those people. The Stanfield resident was an associate of Express Employment services for nearly two years, working temporary jobs around Umatilla County before settling on a permanent job this summer, managing apartment complexes for Umatilla County Housing Authority.
Those temp jobs included working as a flagger with the railroad, filling out orders and distributing food for CAPECO, and driving a forklift for Dupont Pioneer.
Pichcuskie had owned a business for several years, but when he retired, he wanted something that would allow him some flexibility.
“I don’t think I’ve turned down any job,” he said, adding that he’s enjoyed most of the work, though there are a few jobs he’d prefer not to do again.
“Like emptying a rail car filled with coal dust — by hand,” he said.
Pichcuskie said the range of jobs taught him about dealing with different industries, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.
“You learn a lot when you’re bouncing from place to place,” he said.
Pichcuskie said people who want to keep working have to be willing to broaden their scope.
“You’ve got to not refuse to do jobs,” he said.
Connell said the biggest reason that Express would not make a conditional offer of employment is if the person’s specifications are too narrow — they may not have jobs that meet those requests.
“Someone might want to make $70,000 a year,” she said, “but if they’re not willing to budge on that, we most likely would stop the interview, and tell them we’ll keep their information, but we just don’t have jobs that meet your specifications.”