LAKEVILLE – At Sweeteners Plus they have positions to fill, but not candidates to take those jobs.
“We are probably having one of the best years, volume wise ,that we have had in 2020 and we continue that pace into this year as well. That has resulted as been just a huge demand in openings here at the plant and we are really struggling to fill those,” said Senior Vice President of Sales Kyle Whitford.
The Lakeville business is not alone. Statewide, employers can’t find people to hire, a situation that is increasingly being seen nationally as a potential drag on the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Nearly 40% of work-age New Yorkers are unemployed and not actively seeking employment, according to federal estimates.
Sweeteners Plus is a processor and distributor of all types of liquid and dry sweeteners. It was founded in 1983 by president & CEO Carlton E. Myers as a food processing plant.
Since then they have grown to a distributor and manufacturer of liquid and dry sweeteners for food and non-food applications. These include white and brown sugar, organic and kosher products, fructose, maltitol, corn syrup, and invert syrups. Additional services include bottling, custom blending and liquids. Sweeteners are available in bulk, pails, packets, drums, and liquid totes. Sweeteners Plus also ships product regionally via rail for long hauls and by its own fleet of multi-fuel CNG trucks for short hauls. Products are also shipped nationally via carefully selected distribution partners.
About 10 full and part time positions were open earlier this month at the company.
“We can not find that labor out there right now. This week we have had nine interviews set up for positions and seven of those did not show up. They are scheduling these interviews but not following through,” said Whitford.
The problem, Whitford and others said, is that some people are realizing that they can make more money on unemployment.
“It is a tough market with the additional income that people are getting from the government. People are saying we are interested in positions but it does not make sense for us to take them, with what we can get from the government,” said Whitford.
Combined federal and state unemployment benefits come close to or exceed the salaries some people were making in their pre-COVID jobs.
Consider these numbers: A worker making $18 an hour gets $720 a week in gross pay; New York unemployment benefits are half that, or $360. The $300-a-week federal bonus brings the unemployment benefits for the hypothetical worker to $660 a week. Factor is costs such as gasoline and childcare, and going back to work may result in a net loss for the worker.
The result is that companies are left with jobs that are going unfilled.
“We have jobs that include in-office jobs, production, drivers, weekend labor, during the week labor, our rail switching division is looking for crews and really anyone that is looking for a job in any area, regardless of skill set we are trying to fulfill actively,” said Whitford.
No special skills are needed he said, only a willingness to do well.
“We have some of our folks that are more seasoned, we can shift them into other areas. We are trying to be as creative as possible with the work force that we had. We actually in the last month and half for the first time in 35 years had to go to an outside firm that does temporary placement for employees to help fill in the gaps,” said Whitford.
Sweeteners has also increased wages to try and help fill positions.
“With our current employees we have revised the starting wages and increased our minimum starting wage to at least $17 per hour. Walking through the door with no experience, the starting pay is at $17 and plus shift differential,” said Whitford.
The company has also revised its benefits package in the past year or so to provide more time off.
“Our last couple of hires were retires and doing a great jobs,” said Whitford.
As the company continues to grow it is hoping to get more employees that will stick with them through the good times and the bad.
“In over 35 years of business we have also never laid off anyone. Job stability is very important to us,” Whitford said. “Really long term employment is something that we pride ourselves on.”
We feel that is most sustainable for not only the employees but for us as a company as well,” said Whitford.
Tribune News Service reports contributed to this story.