Soon after Sacramento County and California issued public health orders to shut down nonessential businesses in response to the coronavirus, one essential business needed to hire a human resources employee who could write policies that reflected the new reality of working through a pandemic. That employer reached out to Sacramento-based Pacific Staffing, which connected the business with a professional who had a strong background in HR compliance.
Preet Kaur, CEO and executive recruiter of Pacific Staffing, says this story shows the valuable role that local staffing firms continue to play in the new normal, when many businesses have closed and unemployment is reaching record highs.
The Sacramento region has been hit hard economically by California’s shelter-in-place order that began March 19. According to the Employment Development Department, the combined region of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties lost 800 professional and business services jobs between February and March, which includes 500 administrative, 200 technical and 100 management positions. Those job losses have affected local staffing agencies.
Cindy Bunker, owner of River City Staffing in Sacramento, says she saw a decrease in all jobs for which they hire, ranging “from entry-level accounting office clerks to human resource management and senior-level accounting professionals.”
Kaur also says her company has experienced a decline across the board. “Clients are pausing in hiring administrative assistants and HR support roles, although we have hired a few HR assistant positions,” she says.
The loss in business has led to staffing agencies decreasing their own staff. Kaur furloughed two support staff, who will return at an undetermined date, while the remaining five work remotely. Bunker also furloughed some of her employees (she declined to give the number). “We miss them and can’t wait to bring them back,” she says.
Kaur and Bunker say they are hopeful that most lost jobs will return to the region as the shelter-in-place order gradually ends. “Some clients have furloughed employees with full anticipation to bring them back, but others will need time to replenish their financial coffers before they hire back some support staff,” Bunker says. “Smaller companies will be hurt the most.” Also, companies may decide to “hire employees more strategically, in a temporary or temp-to-hire status, until the economic environment firms up.”
Kaur sees reasons for cautious optimism in some sectors. She says that while health care has seen higher unemployment because doctors’ and dentists’ offices have been open for emergencies only, the subsectors of medical assistants and licensed vocational nurses are seeing a slight boost in hiring during the lockdown. “One minute we have doom and gloom, and the next minute an opportunity comes,” Kaur says. “We don’t have a lot of opportunities, but we take advantage of where jobs are created.”
Even with some opportunities increasing, many workers still worry about being exposed to the coronavirus in the workplace. The Blind app, an online network of professionals, found that 70.1 percent of people who participated in a study in early March said they are very or somewhat hesitant to return to work because of concerns over COVID-19.
Staffing agencies try to quell those concerns by being selective in taking on clients. “We are only working with clients who are taking the pandemic seriously, who have face masks and take temperature,” Kaur says. “We have partnered with essential services and customized safety policies for each client.”
Also, the agencies’ clients are being proactive, Bunker says. “Clients are incorporating compliance with government guides and consulting industry and legal experts to ensure their companies are prepared.” Then clients will share their safety plan with their employees. “Communication with returning staff will set expectations as to what the adjusted work environment looks like,” she says. Staffing agencies’ job postings describe adjustments, such as noting when a job is a remote position. Remote work will be available to some employees as non-essential businesses begin to reopen under phase 2 of California’s plan.
Staffing agencies, who have remained open during the lockdown because they supply employees to essential businesses, have also adjusted by working remotely and taking other measures. “Recruiters have laptops and they work from home,” Kaur says. “Everyone has their own office and entrance. … We use the phone or Zoom to meet with clients or candidates, avoiding in-person meetings until the shelter-in-place (order) is lifted.”
Bunker also takes precautions at her agency: “RCS is spacious, where employees can practice the recommended social distancing. We regularly disinfect. We have antibacterial soap throughout the office. We wear masks as needed and work staggered schedules.” Meetings with clients and candidates continue with changes at staffing agencies. “We allow only internal employees in our office but have continued with virtual interviews and client meetings,” she says.
Both Bunker and Kaur have previous candidates contacting their agencies or referring others for employment, which provides a pool of talent for the region when job growth resumes. Kaur also says her agency is preparing candidates for upcoming jobs by providing tutorials and designing job sector-specific projects. “We hear stories of the frustrations and pain job seekers and clients are experiencing,” Bunker says. “Our heart goes out to them all.”
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