West Michigan Works! survey reveals effects of COVID-19 on workforce

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Brittany Lenertz Courtesy West Michigan Works!

West Michigan Works! published the results of a study conducted to capture the reasons behind today’s talent supply and demand mismatch.

The regional workforce development agency West Michigan Works! last week published a COVID-19 unemployment survey conducted by the Calvin University Center for Social Research that was designed to help workforce development teams and employers better understand the effects the pandemic has had on the current state of the Michigan job market and workforce.

“After noticing a reduction in engagement in our services and hiring events among job seekers, we sought to better understand how the region’s workforce felt about returning to work after the pandemic,” said Brittany Lenertz, regional service center director for West Michigan Works! “Our goal was to understand the apparent mismatch between supply and demand for talent during a time of mass unemployment.”

The survey found nearly three-quarters of all survey respondents indicated they were actively looking for work. However, the top two barriers to finding work were identified as potential low wages and the job seekers’ skills did not align with the skills required by the available positions.

Respondents reported having higher skills than what is required for entry-level jobs and not having high enough skills for available mid-skill positions.

“We know that the issues job seekers are facing are complicated,” Lenertz said. “The amount of effort they were able to put toward job searching varied, but despite the amount of effort, most seemed to have very little success finding work.”

The respondents identified the top barriers to returning to work as safety, feelings of anxiety or dread, and high risk for contracting COVID-19. For respondents with children, child care and virtual school were reported as barriers to working.

The research findings are being used to guide conversations by West Michigan Works! Industry Talent Councils to brainstorm solutions for the current talent shortage.

“We are presenting the survey data to West Michigan employers and using it to help inform changes to our service offering, including what format and how we conduct outreach for those services,” Lenertz said.

The survey results include responses from 806 individuals representing all seven West Michigan Works! service counties: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa. Nearly 86% of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 64. Responses were collected between Jan. 19 and March 15.

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