Two years ago, Jason Richoux had to choose whether to stick to his guns or venture into the unknown.
Richoux spent nearly 18 years in marketing and advertising, working for agencies and companies along the way. He joined a solar company in Mandeville as marketing director in 2019.
But around mid-2020, as leads plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company furloughed its marketing department, including Richoux.
He explored his options. He toyed with opening his own marketing business or a franchise of another business. But he slowly realized real estate was a possibility. He owned investment properties and enjoyed his experience with the industry.
So in September 2020, he takes the test to become a mortgage lender. Now he owns Argent Lending and is renovating a space on Girod Street in Mandeville for his growing business. Richoux called the pandemic a “point of reflection” that convinced him to take a risk that paid off.
“I never wanted to take this leap into the world of sales, and now I wish I had done it 15 years ago,” he said.
More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic first pushed the career reset button for many workers, Louisiana’s workforce is more mobile than ever.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 440,000 Louisiana workers have voluntarily quit their jobs through July, the highest statewide total for the first seven months of the year since the bureau began reporting. track the data in 2000. If the trend continues, the state could once again break its record for quits in a single year.
Meanwhile, job postings in Louisiana hit a record 163,000 in May and have been above 140,000 since December. Prior to 2020, the previous state record was 101,000 openings in April 2015.
Labor market developments are another lasting economic effect of COVID-19. Labor levels are still down from pre-pandemic times, providing in-demand workers with the opportunity to rethink their career choices.
Economists say mobility is a sign of a healthy economy, albeit a confusing challenge for employers, who are acknowledging the new reality while struggling to find workers amid historically low unemployment in Louisiana.
“Employers are always looking for people, and that’s one of the reasons the quit rate is so high,” said Gary Wagner, an Acadiana business economist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Now is the perfect time to move if you are in the labor market.
behind the numbers
Prior to this summer, Louisiana had hit the 70,000 dropout plateau only three times — the two months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and again in July 2019.
Now, Louisiana has reached 70,000 departures in the past two months, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the 440,000 quits through July — the latest available data — are higher than the annual totals from 2009 to 2013, when the effects of the Great Recession were still rocking the economy. The state hit a 12-year low in 2020 with 566,000 quits, but the number hit a record high of 720,000 in 2021.
Wagner said the dropout rate is high because 31,000 fewer people in Louisiana are working than before the pandemic began. Workers are always in demand, giving job seekers more ways to be choosy.
The national labor pool began to grow about four months ago. That didn’t happen in Louisiana, Wagner said, contributing to the state’s low unemployment rate.
“If those 30,000+ people who were working before the pandemic all came back into the workforce, you wouldn’t have the opportunities that you would have to change employers,” Wagner said.
Wagner said it was hard to imagine COVID-19 stimulus funds not affecting some people’s career choices. The remaining question is whether these funds were the “dominant effect”.
“I think there were probably people just reassessing what they wanted to do, what their life choices were,” he said.
Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said younger workers are much more willing to change jobs than their predecessors. Some workers have also shifted to part-time work instead of seeking full-time employment.
“Workers have gotten used to more flexibility,” Waguespack said.
Sectors in difficulty
The overall outlook for Louisiana’s labor pool is positive. The Louisiana Workforce Commission predicts employment will grow 3.5% across all industries in 2023.
However, several industries are likely to be affected, including agriculture, fishing, forestry and hunting; mining; public services ; finance and insurance; real estate, rental and leasing; educational services; arts, entertainment and recreation; and the government.
Amid the changing landscape, Waguespack said employers in oil and gas, hospitality, manufacturing and agriculture are still struggling to find workers in Louisiana. Baton Rouge area chamber officials also said demand has increased for registered nurses, retail workers and retail supervisors.
In some cases, employers can find candidates, but few will show up for in-person interviews, Waguespack said.
Waguespack said employers need to get creative when touting their benefits, especially on social media. Successful companies have connected to community colleges and technical schools to create talent pools.
“It’s more imperative than ever for employers to come out and talk about the benefits of open jobs,” he said.
Gary Jupiter, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Baton Rouge, said his hotel has tried to fill labor gaps by connecting to local colleges and universities and trade fairs. hotel. The hotel struggled to recruit employees who were laid off at the start of the pandemic.
“A lot of these people have found other ways to make ends meet in other careers,” Jupiter said.
Some employers get creative. Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said a restaurant operator in the North Shore region is offering up to $1,000 in tuition reimbursement for new hires. “He said he hired six people under this plan,” Harris said.
Harris expressed optimism for the industry. He said restaurant jobs were up 2.5% in Baton Rouge from 2020 and 10% in Lafayette, though Shreveport, Lake Charles and New Orleans were still down.
Harris said applications for restaurant jobs have increased slightly this year, although fewer workers see the restaurant industry as a career choice.
However, he added that employers — even restaurants with their wafer-thin margins — need to look at all of their perks to establish themselves as an employer of choice.
“If you look outside and say it’s just salary driven, it’s not,” Harris said. “There are other things internally that you want to make sure of.”