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Job in the mid-Missouri area are finding it easier to enter the job market. With the unemployment rate in Columbia being one of the lowest in the state and country employers are finding it hard to fill positions. Even those formally shut out of the job market are getting a second chance.

BY KAIXIN LIU, AMBER RAUB, CHLOE THORNBERRY, SYDNEY WALTON

 
 

COLUMBIA – More residents are finding jobs because of the low unemployment rate in Columbia.  

In December 2017, Laura Heck was in a car accident and eventually lost her job because she was forced to go on medical leave due to developing post-concussion syndrome.  

In April 2018, Heck started looking for work. 

“When I would apply for jobs, I was getting calls back immediately. I ended up getting the first job that I applied for and interviewed for that I really loved and was really excited about,” Heck said. “I felt like I had more power than the last time I applied for jobs…I was able to ask for more and felt more confident asking for more.”

In July 2018, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis released economic data that placed Columbia’s unemployment rate at 2.3 percent. Columbia’s rate is one of the lowest in the nation, which results in employers needing more people than there are jobs available.  

Businesses in Columbia are struggling to find employees.  

Lisa Marshall, Supervisor of Workforce Development at the Missouri Job Center, said anyone who receives unemployment benefits gets referred to the Missouri Job Center.

“If they haven’t job searched in a long time, sometimes folks are not familiar with the way things are done now because the applications are online,” Marshall said.

The Missouri Job Center provides referrals for training in order to be skilled enough to do the type of job they are searching for.

Allen Jennings, District Manager at Kelly Services, said companies are running into issues employing people because there are more openings than there are people. 

“Potential employees have options, more than they’ve ever had,” Jennings said. “If you want to work, you can be working right now.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in March 2018 there were 0.9 employees available to every one job.

Guy Hulen, Regional Service manager at IMKO Workforce Solutions, said companies are loosening their standards because of the low unemployment rate. This could lead to lower quality work and companies paying more to train people who do not have the desired skills for the job. 

“A lot of companies have had to really take a long look at what’s this job entail,” Hulen said.  

People who typically would not have as much of a chance in the past are now getting an opportunity to get back into the workforce. 

Doug Geshell, Plant Manager at Aurora Organic Dairy, a dairy plant in the process of being built, said in their hiring process they are looking for people with specific knowledge, skill and cultural fit. 

“In this day in age, there’s not a lot of perfect fits,” Geshell said.  

Aurora Dairy does not have a policy in place to exclude people because of things in their background. 

“Everybody makes mistakes in their life and I think that most of them are easily explainable and are a lot easier to explain when you read those background checks,” Geshell said.

Bernie Andrews, Vice President at REDI, said the state of Missouri does not want to be building more prisons, and wants to see people succeed.

“The state is looking at job training programs for people who are incarcerated…nearing their incarceration end date,” Andrews said. 

Currently, the Missouri Department of Corrections offers 38 vocational training programs ranging anywhere from cosmetology to welding. 

Companies are also working to attract talent in different ways. Whether it is being out on the street corner with a pop-up tent and a flagging people down or going to churches and organizations to raise awareness, businesses want to stand out. 

When talking with people, Hulen says something that most people are searching for in a job is culture.

“A culture that people feel heard, people feel empowered, and people feel like they can make a difference,” Hulen said.

Crucial company positions are struggling to be filled because of the low unemployment rate. This can lead to second chances for some Missourians, but can also lead to lower quality work.

“There are very few programs that have an adolescent young adult dedicated clinic,” he said. “So, you don’t know what bucket they fall into. Should they be treated in adult oncology or should they see a pediatrician?”

Cummings began her chemotherapy at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. During her treatment, she didn’t feel it was a place that she belongs to because most of the cancer patients there are primarily older people.

“It can be isolating,” she said. “Everyone there is not necessarily like you and the majority of your friends are at school and away.”

The feelings of isolation sometimes make some patients turn emotionally inward. Dr. Sisk said having access to psychosocial support can be critical to them but sometimes such support is in short supply.

“There’s not a good infrastructure to do that,” he said. “There’s a great shortage of mental health care professionals that take care of them and there’s almost none that specialize in young adults with cancer.”

Cummings was able to connect to other young adult cancer patients through social media during her treatment. She said being able to hear stories from people who undergo similar experience helps to ease her stress 

“Having that person to reference to, who truly knows what you’re going through and can answer questions, was really helpful,” she said. “Having that aspect of support kind of made things easier for me.”

Going through 12 rounds of chemotherapy, Cummings found that having emotional support and always keeping a positive outlook was integral as she fights against cancer. Now in remission, she hopes to help more of her fellow cancer patients find the positive spirit. 

Cummings created CUREageous Cups, a project through which new cancer patients will receive a gift of a YETI cup of their own when they arrive at the first chemotherapy. Each cup is accompanied by a personal message of encouragement inspired by her own journey.

“Cancer, even though it was scary, a positive mindset and supports from others help a lot and guide you through it,” she said. “In this journey, even just a little thing means a lot.”