Working Together: Accessing talent in the COVID-era job market (Voices)

RENO, Nev. — The historic swing of the unemployment rate across the greater Reno-Sparks metro area — 3.22% in December, to 20.42% in April, to 8.6% in June — might give the impression that open positions would be quick to fill.

While some employers continue to freeze hiring, others who are looking are finding some positions are taking longer to fill now than a year prior. The drop in job postings during COVID is significant (Figure 1), but there have still been at least 13,000 unique postings in our region each month. What’s the disconnect?

There are a number of reasons the “available” workforce, approximately 20,700 individuals, might not currently be looking for work:

  • Employees who have been furloughed or laid off may be hoping to get their old job back and, thus, not really on the job market. As the recession is expected to be lengthy, this could become less likely to come to fruition.
  • Reports from Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, and feedback from employers, have revealed at least some portion of unemployment claims are fraudulent. DETR acknowledges it has flagged more than 100,000 suspicious claims.
  • The extra $600 benefit that (temporarily?) expired last month enabled many individuals to make more on unemployment than they would have in their prior job. Even though it is fraudulent for employees to claim unemployment if they have been offered work, the onus is on employers to report the fraud to DETR, and it will take some time for reports to be investigated and resolved.
  • Politicization and quickly shifting science and regulations create challenges for leadership and contribute to feelings about whether or not it is safe to return to work. 
  • A positive trend of COVID-19 cases and increased capacity for contact tracing could prevent more individuals from returning to work. 
  • The segment of the population that is more vulnerable, or is in close contact with a vulnerable individual, may make it difficult or impossible to return to work and risk increased exposure to the virus.
  • The unpredictability of school or daycare has led individuals, primarily women, to remove themselves from the workforce. 

So ... what next?

With all of this, how can businesses think creatively about accessing the talent that’s out there and help reduce the fear or burden of returning to work?

Employers need to function as if we’re still in a 3% unemployment environment, which includes strengthening prospects to meet future demand even if they’re not currently looking to fill open positions immediately. Here are some things to do:

  • Post your jobs EVERYWHERE — most importantly, on the state’s EmployNV system.
  • Search the EmployNV system and leverage the state’s Business Services team that will provide individualized service to support filling open positions. They’ll also help leverage incentives and other partner services.
  • Be visible in the community. Encourage employees to volunteer and donate resources to organizations working to support the most vulnerable or help get the community back on track. 
  • Advertise how your workplace has made measures to increase safety and allow for increased flexibility or remote work whenever possible. Even though you may be itching to get back to “normal,” emphasizing the complexity for some will make your business more appealing to a larger pool.
  • Advertise benefits related to work-life balance and mental healthcare and highlight examples of employees making it work. 
  • Engage with the education system through virtual presentations, tours, and career fairs. Educators have been working through the unpredictability to figure out how to provide an enriching experience. Internships and apprenticeships are excellent opportunities to “test” talent and strengthen the workforce pool for the community. 
  • Send recruiters to the (virtual) Recruiting Roundtable to network with other recruiters, get help with hard-to-fill positions, and stay up to date on regional trends and issues impacting talent attraction. 
  • Continue to think creatively about minimum requirements in job postings and adjust applicant tracking system screening software to allow for a broader pool. 
  • Engage with an employment agency. It’s worth the expense to engage professionals in the process!
  • Explore other ideas on EDAWN’s Workforce Resources page.

“Working Together” is a recurring Voices column in the NNBW authored by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, where Amy Fleming is manager of workforce development. Reach her for comment at


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