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A survey of Northeast Ohio employers and workers aims to shed light on hiring struggles

The Fund for our Economic Future and other Northeast Ohio research and workforce groups plan to ask employers and working-age people how work has changed during the pandemic. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
The Cleveland skyline

A new survey on the labor force in Northeast Ohio aims to find out why employers have struggled to hire since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Where Are the Workers?” survey will seek insights from employers and working-age adults in two phases.

It asks companies about how hiring has changed since early 2020. A link to the survey is available on the Fund for Our Economic Future’s website.

“We’re really hoping to learn more about what’s going on with people and their desire to connect with work,” Fund President Bethia Burke said. “There are a lot of ideas out there about what somebody is thinking when they do or don’t take a job, but we don’t really know because we haven’t asked.”

Other workforce and research outfits participating in the project include the think tank PolicyBridge, economic development group Team NEO, Summit & Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments and ConxusNEO, an Akron-based workforce development organization.

A survey of working-age adults is planned for January, as are focus groups with employers and potential workers, Burke said. The project will gather perspectives across industries and skill levels in the Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown metropolitan areas.

Whether the sticking points are wages, childcare or shift times, the surveys and focus groups will help employers learn more about today’s workforce, Burke said. The partners want to learn how employers have tried to attract new talent and how workers’ ideas of work have changed during the pandemic.

“What we’re really trying to do is better understand what is informing decisions so that the changes we’re making … from employers, to training systems, to people in charge of public dollars, that we can make smart choices that actually make workplaces better for people and make it more possible for employers to find talent,” she said.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the Cleveland-Elyria metropolitan area stood at 5% in November. That figure is lower than the early-pandemic highs of spring 2020. But the number of people either working or looking for work has shrunk from pre-pandemic levels.

The civilian labor force in the Cleveland-Elyria and Akron metro areas is about 5.6% smaller than it was just before the pandemic took hold nationwide in February 2020, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.