REGION — “I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve got big signs on my store…I had three interviews last week, nobody showed up. I don’t know what to do,” Jon Bubier, owner of Ron’s Market in Farmington, said in a phone interview on April 19.

Current employment opportunities in the Farmington area range from manufacturing positions at Origin, substitute teachers and ed. technicians at Regional School Unit 9, to customer service jobs at Ron’s Market, a food service position at the Dugout Bar and Grill, and various department positions at Walmart.

According to the Maine Department of Labor, hospitality and leisure sector jobs were most affected by the pandemic. Now that gathering restrictions ease, restaurants and bars are hiring again. The Dugout Bar and Grill in Farmington has had a full-time position advertised for six months now. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

According to the Maine Department of Labor (DOL), March saw the greatest gain since September in nonfarm jobs which are positions in goods, construction and manufacturing but excludes farm workers, private household employees and non-profit organization employees.

“The pace of recovery accelerated in March with the largest job gains since September. Nonfarm payroll jobs increased 4,100 to 609,600. Gains were concentrated in educational services (private and public K-12 and higher ed) and leisure and hospitality, the two sectors that were the most impacted by the pandemic. Changes in other sectors were much smaller,” the DOL’s April 16 news release stated.

Despite these gains last month, Maine’s unemployment rate remained at 4.8% where it has been since February. Some jobs in the service industry have returned as gathering restrictions ease and indoor limits are set to increase from 50% to 75% on May 24.

 

Not all jobs will return with these changes, however. John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington, explained that the lack of new movies scheduled to be released over the summer directly impacts the number of positions available at the theater.

“We still haven’t recovered at the theater so we don’t need anything more than the skeleton crew, so we’re fortunate that we are set,” Moore said in a phone interview. “We have a very small crew because we have very little business still. So it’s not going to affect us like it is some of these restaurants that get cranking.” 

Meanwhile, other businesses have added positions this past year. Bee Line Cable and Broadband Solutions General Manager Doug Allen has had to increase his staff with the pandemic presenting increased opportunities to connect homes with internet services.

“Over this past year with the pandemic we have literally been in thousands, thousands of homes. We’ve put out thousands of wireless routers,” Allen said in a phone interview. “We’ve increased our customer base by roughly 20% which means I had to increase my staff 20% and I’m in the process of hiring more technicians. It’s been crazy.” 

Allen said that although it was tough filling those extra positions because they require a technical background, he has been able meet his staffing needs.

Origin manufacturing based out of Farmington and Wilton has also increased its workforce in the past year.

“Origin is exponentially growing each year even amidst the current world economic climate. In 2020 during the pandemic we grew 53% and for 2021 our projections are for another 50% employment increase and we are well on our way,” Chief Operating Officer Amanda Roberts said in an email.

With positions available, some local business owners are reporting more of a struggle recently to even interview a candidate with job applicants never showing up. Aside from Bubier at Ron’s Market experiencing this, Dugout Bar and Grill Owner Shaun Riggs has also been dealing with interview no-shows for a full-time position that he’s had advertised for six months now.

Roberts also noted this trend with job applicants lately.

“In the beginning of this year applications were plentiful with many qualified candidates however we’ve seen a plummet in the second quarter,” she wrote. “During my last interviewing program half the applicants were no call/no shows meaning the applicants didn’t show up for their scheduled interviews.”

Bubier said he can’t compete with unemployment benefits and the implications of a rising minimum wage.

“They upped the minimum to $12, they [workers] all want $15 to $20 an hour, we can’t compete anymore. We can’t compete with unemployment,” he said. “They’re paying them more to stay home than we can afford to pay them for work. And that really is the bottom line, it’s really frustrating.” 

Roberts said Origin has noticed a connection in the ebbs and flows of hiring with governed incentives and stimulus programs, but has always offered competitive wages and benefit programs.

“Before the minimum wage increase, starting pay at Origin was a dollar more than minimum wage. Currently we start at $13.00 with a performance based wage increase schedule at 3, 6 and 12 months,” Roberts wrote.

In regards to minimum wage, Maine saw its lowest increase this year since 2017, going from $12/hour to $12.15/hour. Tipped, service positions went from $6/hour to $6.08/hour.

“The modest 15 cent increase in 2021 will help the minimum wage keep pace with the cost of living and preserve the wage floor for minimum wage workers. According to a study conducted by MDOL in 2017, most workers in Maine earning minimum wage were 25 years old or older, and two thirds were women,” MDOL new release stated on September 21.

According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) living wage calculator, an individual in Maine without any dependents needs to make at minimum $14.92/hour to meet basic needs and maintain self-sufficiency.

As for unemployment benefits, the $300 a week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation expired March 31 and Maine’s unemployment compensation is capped at $462 a week, with the opportunity to earn an additional $10 per dependent.

Those on unemployment benefits are once again required to show proof of a weekly work search related activity, a requirement that was suspended earlier in the pandemic. Maine’s DOL has now broadened this requirement to include:

• Attending a job fair/virtual job fair hosted by a CareerCenter

• Participating in CareerCenter virtual reemployment services

• Participating in a CareerCenter virtual workshop

• Applying for a job for which you are reasonably qualified

• Interviewing for a job for which you are reasonably qualified

• Contacting an employer to inquire as to whether the employer is hiring

• Participating in professional job-related education or skills development

• Participating in networking events related to a job or occupation for which you are reasonably qualified

• Working part-time

In Franklin County, the civilian workforce is estimated at 14,147 and as of March, 776 of those workers are unemployed, according to MDOL.

Pandemic-related issues identified with unemployment include lack of childcare, people suddenly finding themselves in caregiving roles, and unable to work due to health conditions.


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