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Louisiana workers are quitting at a record-breaking rate

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(TNS) – Two years ago, Jason Richoux faced a choice: stick to his guns or venture into the unknown.

Richoux spent almost 18 years in marketing and advertising, working for agencies and companies on the side. He joined a solar company in Mandeville, La. in 2019 as Marketing Director.

But around mid-2020, as sales contacts dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company furloughed its marketing department, including Richoux.

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He checked his options. He toyed with opening his own marketing company or a franchise of another company. But he slowly realized that real estate was a possibility. He owned some investment property and enjoyed his industry experience.

In September 2020, for example, he passed the exam to become a mortgage lender. He now owns Argent Lending and is renovating a space on Girod Street in Mandeville for his growing business. Richoux called the pandemic a “reflection point” that convinced him to take a risk that has paid off massively.

“I never wanted to take the plunge into the sales world, and now I wish I had 15 years ago,” he said.

More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic first pushed the reset button on many workers’ careers, the Louisiana workforce is as mobile as ever.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 440,000 workers in Louisiana had voluntarily left their jobs through July, the state’s highest total in the first seven months of the year since the bureau began collecting the data in 2000. If the trend continues, the state could once again break its record for layoffs in a single year.

Meanwhile, job listings in Louisiana hit a record 163,000 in May and are over 140,000 since December. Prior to 2020, the state’s previous record was 101,000 openings in April 2015.

The changing labor market is another lasting economic effect of COVID-19. Staff levels are still lower than pre-pandemic times, giving in-demand workers an opportunity to reconsider their career choices.

Economists say mobility is a sign of a healthy economy, albeit a confusing challenge for employers who acknowledge the new reality as they struggle to find workers amid Louisiana’s historically low unemployment rate.

“Employers are still looking for employees, and that’s one of the reasons you actually see the attrition rate as high as it is,” said Gary Wagner, an Acadiana business graduate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “It’s a great time to move if you have a job.”

behind the numbers

Prior to this summer, Louisiana had only reached the 70,000-quit plateau three times — the two months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and again in July 2019.

Louisiana has seen 70,000 layoffs over the past two months, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, the 440,000 layoffs through July – the latest available data – is more than the annual totals from 2009 to 2013, when the effects of the Great Recession were still shaking the economy. The state hit a 12-year low in 2020 with 566,000 layoffs, but the number rose to a record 720,000 in 2021.

Wagner said the churn rate is elevated because 31,000 fewer people work in Louisiana than before the pandemic began. Labor is still in demand, giving job seekers more opportunities to be selective.

The national labor pool started increasing about four months ago. That didn’t happen in Louisiana, Wagner said, which was a factor in the state’s low unemployment rate.

“If those 30,000+ people who worked before the pandemic all returned to the labor market, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to move to other employers,” Wagner said.

Wagner said it’s hard to imagine that COVID-19’s stimulus funds haven’t impacted some people’s career choices. The remaining question is whether these agents were the “dominant effect”.

“I think there were probably people who were just re-evaluating what they wanted to do, which were their lifestyle choices,” he said.

Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said younger workers are far more willing to change jobs than their predecessors. Some workers have also switched to part-time work instead of full-time employment.

“Workers have gotten used to more flexibility,” Waguespack said.

Difficult Sectors

The overall outlook for the Louisiana workforce is positive. The Louisiana Workforce Commission projects that employment will grow 3.5 percent in all sectors through 2023.

However, multiple industries are likely to be affected, including agriculture, fisheries, forestry and hunting; Mining; utilities; financing and insurance; real estate, rental and leasing; educational services; arts, entertainment and recreation; and government.

Amid the changing landscape, Waguespack says employers in the oil and gas, hospitality, manufacturing and agriculture sectors are still struggling to find workers in Louisiana. Baton Rouge Area Chamber officials also said there has been an increase in demand for registered nurses, retail workers and retail supervisors.

In some cases, employers can find applicants, but few will show up for in-person interviews, Waguespack said.

Waguespack said employers need to be creative when it comes to promoting their benefits, especially on social media. Successful companies have partnered with community colleges and technical schools to create talent pipelines.

“It’s now more important than ever for employers to come out and talk about the benefits of open positions,” he said.

Gary Jupiter, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Baton Rouge, said his hotel has been trying to fill staffing gaps by partnering with local colleges and universities and hospitality fairs. The hotel is struggling to rehire staff who were laid off early in the pandemic.

“A lot of these people have found other ways to make ends meet in other careers,” Justus said.

Some employers get creative. According to Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, a North Shore restaurant operator is offering up to $1,000 back in tuition for new hires. “He said he hired six people as part of that plan,” Harris said.

Harris expressed optimism for the industry. He said restaurant jobs were up 2.5 percent in Baton Rouge and 10 percent in Lafayette compared to 2020, although Shreveport, Lake Charles and New Orleans are still down.

According to Harris, applications for restaurant jobs have increased slightly this year, although fewer workers are considering the restaurant industry as a career choice.

However, he added that employers — even restaurants with their razor-thin margins — need to review all of their benefits in order to establish themselves as an employer of choice.

“If you look outside and say it’s just wage-driven, it’s not,” Harris said. “There are other internal things you want to make sure of.”

(c)2022 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Attorney. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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