Atlantic Union Bank is hiring differently since the pandemic. They’re moving faster, out of necessity.
The Richmond-based bank with 129 branches is looking to fill 147 roles out of an employee base of approximately 2,000.
“We’re much more nimble, interviewing over Zoom” and making offers faster, CEO John C. Asbury said.
“The war for talent is on,” Loreen Lagatta, chief human resources officer, added “There are three people behind you, ready to make the same offer.”
The U.S. economy is making a comeback and local companies are scrambling to fill positions.
U.S. employers posted a record high number of 850,000 jobs in June, the Labor Department said on July 2, a steady increase from May’s increase of 559,000. The unemployment rate was little changed, up to 5.9% in June from 5.8% in May.
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There were 9.21 million unfilled jobs in the country on the last day of May, the highest figure since records began in December 2000.
The number of people quitting their jobs slipped in May from a record high in April, but remains elevated. And the percentage of workers getting laid off hit a record low in May, the report said.
Virginia is also busy adding jobs back after the pandemic. Between March and April of 2020, Virginia shed 428,000 jobs. Since then, it has added 282,500 jobs. In the Richmond region, there were 648,200 jobs in April, up from 613,500 the year before during the height of the pandemic.
The figures point to a tight job market, with employers forced to pay more to attract workers yet still struggling to fill open jobs.
‘The war for talent’ and the allure of remote work
With the need to hire more staff, companies are changing their hiring strategies to attract more talent, whether that means increasing wages, offering signing bonuses, or the opportunity for remote work.
Allianz Partners, the Henrico County-based consumer specialty insurance specializing in travel insurance, is currently staffed at 70% and looking to hire 180 positions this year.
During the pandemic, Allianz had to eliminate some positions and temporarily furlough others until the travel industry rebounded. Now, they’ve rehired many of the associates who were impacted by the crisis and continue to hire new associates to fill additional roles.
“The workforce is very different than before the pandemic,” said Denise Marshall, head of human resources. “We have to understand it and appreciate it.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Allianz sent more than 800 employees home to work remotely. They found that their employees thrived with remote work.
“Working remotely is here to stay,” Marshall said.
To attract new employees, Allianz is offering a signing bonus for inbound sales positions, which have been harder to place. For other positions, such as customer care, claims, management and underwriting positions, Allianz is offering the chance to work remotely as well as a full benefits package.
Before the pandemic, Allianz looked for employees for its main office who would live and work in the Richmond region. But now with remote work, Allianz will be able to broaden its candidate pool and look for potential candidates all over Virginia.
Remote work and hybrid programs are taking off across Virginia, as many companies are ramping up some form of “return to in-person work” in the fall.
Capital One Financial Corp., the Richmond region’s largest private employer, is planning to keep a hybrid work model in which employees will spend three days a week in the office.
Richmond-based Dominion Energy has instituted a one-year pilot program to have employees work three days a week at the office and two days at home.
“People have demonstrated their ability to work spectacularly from home,” Atlantic Union Bank’s Asbury said. “They value flexibility and we provide a flexible work environment.”
The bank will continue to offer remote work for the corporate positions, but the company said it has been more difficult to fill the in-person positions at its branches. “People are still shying away from some of those customer-facing roles,” Lagatta said.
Out of the 147 open positions at Atlantic Union Bank, 93 of them will have some type of hybrid remote flexibility, while 54 will be in-person positions within a branch.
To attract more talent, Atlantic Union Bank is focusing on its compensation package to make it attractive to workers with benefits including health care, a profit sharing program, soft stock program and a 401(k). The bank also added new incentives, such as expanding parental leave. Previously, parental leave was just for birth mothers, but now the company has expanded six weeks of parental leave to fathers and adoptive parents.
“We understand there’s competition. We need to make sure that we’re providing a competitive package,” Lagatta said.
“All companies are going to have to decide what works for them,” Asbury said. “We’ve had more people [apply] out of state than ever before” because they can work remotely. “That’s part of the future and businesses need to be mindful of that.”
Jeff Gum, a staffing provider with for Express Employment Professionals, said, “The demographics are saying that we’re likely to have tight job markets for the foreseeable future as long as we have a good economy. All of us in employment have to be conscious not just on recruiting, but on retention. It’s a highly competitive marketplace and will continue to be highly competitive.”
Lagatta said that hiring in the past few weeks has slowed down a little. She thinks that people are vacationing for the summer and expects that interest in applying will pick back up again in the fall.
At automotive retailer CarMax, Diane Cafritz, the chain’s chief human resources officer, said, “The current labor market is competitive for top talent, particularly for high demand roles such as contact center associates and automotive service professionals.”
CarMax recently held its first-ever national curbside career day to recruit for 1,800 automotive service professionals, with sign-on bonuses available for some roles.
In the Richmond area, CarMax is currently hiring for roles at its two store locations as well as at the home office in Goochland County, a customer experience center, and digital and technology innovation center. Fully remote or hybrid positions are available for many roles.
“Today, it’s more critical than ever that employers focus on creating exceptional workplaces and training programs to attract and retain talented associates,” Cafritz said.
CarMax plans to have its remote workers return on Sept. 7 to its offices. But the chain said it will provide enhanced flexibility enabling those office employees to work onsite and remotely, with many being able to work remotely full time.
But several industries that don’t offer higher wages or flexible schedules are struggling, like the child care industry.
The YMCA of Emporia has been looking for childcare director for months, but has only had four applicants apply. The problem: the salary.
The starting salary is posted at $36,000, which executive director Kristin Vaughan knows is a huge stumbling block for applicants.
She said that most applicants would choose a teaching position over one in child care because their salary would be higher and they would get summer off.
“We simply can’t pay enough to be competitive in the job market. If we did, we would have to increase our fees so much that no one would attend,” Vaughan said.
While employees value working remotely, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 14.4% of people worked remotely in June due to the pandemic, versus 26.4% in August of last year.
The remote work trend has also raised concerns about an unequal economic recovery, given that working remotely is an option available to a privileged few, according to The Associated Press. Most jobs are at restaurants, schools, hospitals, factories and other places that require workers to show up in person.
Wages on the rise “Now hiring” signs have become a fixture on the doors of restaurants, gas stations and car washes all over town, often touting higher wages.
In May, McDonald’s announced it would raise hourly wages by an average of 10%, bringing hourly wages for entry level crew to between $11 and $17 an hour. But wages at McDonald’s in Virginia vary, as each franchise organization is responsible for setting its own wages and benefits offered to their employees.
This summer, local franchisees and McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurants in Virginia expect to hire nearly 8,000 restaurant employees as they welcome customers back to in-person dining.
Discount retailer Target increased its starting hourly wages to $15 last year, beginning on July 5, 2020. Target said that it received more seasonal job applications in 2020 than in 2019 and conducted more than of 200,000 virtual interviews due to the pandemic.
Amazon also offers a starting wage of $15.50. Amazon has four fulfillment centers locally, in Chesterfield County, Petersburg, Prince George County and Richmond, two delivery stations, both located in Richmond, and a sort center in Hanover County. Amazon said that it will be hiring for hundreds of hourly positions in the Central Virginia area over the next month.
Christine Chmura, CEO and chief economist at Richmond-based research firm Chmura Economics & Analytics, says that employers are having a hard time filling positions because the quit rate is very high. In April, 4 million people quit their jobs, the highest rate in 20 years.
“During a recession, workers don’t quit because of uncertainty about finding another job. When we come out of a recession, some workers quit their jobs and find another one,” Chmura said. “Pent up demand from businesses to add workers and people quitting their jobs are dual factors causing some staffing shortages in certain occupations.”
Fear of COVID and trouble finding jobs
But the lingering effects of COVID-19 are keeping many potential workers on the sidelines. Some of those out of work are worried about the risk of getting the illness from large crowds, while many older Americans have retired early.
Among the unemployed, the number of job leavers — that is, unemployed people who quit or voluntarily left their previous jobs and began looking for new employment — increased by 164,000 to 942,000 in June, according to the Department of Labor.
Others have problems returning to work due to child care issues. And an extra $300 in weekly unemployment aid has allowed some Americans to seek out higher-paying jobs rather than return to previous positions that may have paid little.
But remote work is still out of reach for many and reveals longstanding inequities in the labor market.
Megan Stimpson has been in the Richmond restaurant business for 20 years. Last year in the height of the pandemic, Metro Grill, the restaurant where she was working as a manager, closed for good.
She has Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that puts her at a greater risk for complications if she gets sick. She’s been reluctant to return to restaurant work — or any work that brings her in contact with a lot of people — until the pandemic is over.
She’s hoping to switch careers into banking or health care, but after sending out 85 resumes, she still hasn’t landed a position. And her unemployment benefits abruptly stopped in August of last year.
Last week, after running through all of her savings, she took a part-time job serving breakfast in a hotel restaurant. While she feels safer in that environment because guests are still required to wear masks, she said it still feels dangerous.
“Restaurants are an industry I loved, but the pandemic changed it forever for me. I can’t consider it a career anymore,” she said.
She is now looking into taking courses in medical billing and coding certification through the Re-Employing Virginians program. And hoping to land a job with remote work or in an office setting.
“There are huge sectors of employees where remote work never has been an option: healthcare, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and the like,” said S. Douglas Pugh, interim dean for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business who previously served as chair of the school’s department of management and entrepreneurship.
“The combination of autonomy and financial stability that will allow one to reconsider employment options is going to favor more highly educated knowledge workers,” Pugh said. “When thinking about policies for employees and return to work, it is critical to consider both those where remote work is an option and those where it is not.”
Staff writers Karri Peifer and John Ramsey and information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.