By Rafael Gerena-Morales, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 25--Applying for a job at the Radisson Hotel in Englewood and waiting for a response used to take two weeks. But now applicants are guaranteed an interview within 10 minutes and can get the job the next day as the hotel struggles to find workers in today's tight labor market.
With the nation's unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, a 28-year low, many New Jersey businesses like the Radisson Hotel are doing whatever they can to snare workers. Their tactics include paying employees to recruit friends, reviewing resumes on the Internet, becoming buddies with college career counselors, and hooking up with church groups.
"We have a sense of urgency," said June McDougall, general manager of the Radisson, which is trying to hire food servers and cooks. "The minute someone walks through the door looking for a job, our managers have strict instructions to see them right away. We don't want good candidates to get lost," she said.
Neither do other companies. Hiring officials in the banking, pharmaceutical, information technology, and temporary-service industries have also said it is difficult to find workers.
The labor market has become so tight that the Senate voted last week to expand a program allowing U.S. businesses to hire thousands of foreign computer programmers, health professionals, and others.
Summit Bancorp. of Princeton is trying to get recruiting help from its workers. The bank pays employees $2,000 if they recruit upper-level managers and $750 if they recruit others. The financial carrot helped the bank fill 700 jobs last year, said Jim Ferrier, Summit's director of employment. "The tight job market requires us to be a lot more creative than in the past," Ferrier said. Summit also works with church groups such as the The First Baptist Community Development Corp. in Franklin Township, which screens congregants and neighborhood residents looking for work.
"I'm sure we're helping the recruiters" at Summit bank, said Patricia Hendricks, a spokeswoman for the Baptist group. "But it's also worked wonderfully for the people of our community. The relationship is providing jobs, which help people buy homes and improve their lives." In the last 1 1/2 years, the Baptist group has placed 60 people in jobs with Summit, ranging from $15,000-a-year bank tellers to a $70,000-a-year management position in human resources.
To land the tellers, lending officers, managers, and secretaries it needs to keep business humming, Boston-based Fleet Financial Group Inc., which has 170 branches in New Jersey, has freed recruiters from ancillary projects so that they can focus on finding employees. "Recruiters are solely responsible for recruiting," said Richard Greco, human resources director for Fleet bank. "Recruiters don't have to deal with employee relations or training issues anymore." The bank had to make the changes because "we're feeling the pinch" of the tight labor market, Greco said.
Lockheed Martin IMS of Teaneck is feeling the pinch, too. The information-services company, which tracks data such as state welfare and EZ Pass information, has forged relationships with local colleges, hoping to recruit accounting and computer science graduates. "We've developed a personal relationship with career counselors and college professors so that they steer people our way," said Terry Lynam, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin IMS. "In today's economy, it's very important to act quickly. If you drag your feet, you lose." The company also scans resumes on the Internet to find candidates, Lynam said.
Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant based in Whitehouse Station, is also tapping colleges for labor-market relief. This summer, Merck is recruiting 500 college juniors for internships in its research, marketing, and human resources departments, up from 450 a year ago. "We're trying to get the students to know us earlier, before they graduate," said Howard Levine, a senior human resources official at Merck. "We can't wait until the last minute to recruit. The internship program helps us get a jump."
Even temporary agencies, which earn their highest profits during times of low unemployment, have been ruffled by the labor crunch. With so many companies calling Arline Simpson Associates Inc. seeking accountants, administrative assistants, and data-entry personnel, the Rochelle Park agency is running out of workers. To attract the secretaries, bookkeepers, and switchboard operators she needs, Arline Simpson, the agency's president, sponsored her first job fair in four years, spending $1,500 to pay for advertising and to rent a conference room at a Paramus hotel last week.
"This is an extra expense I didn't need," Simpson said. "I just lost a customer-service job because I didn't have a person to fill it." The lack of available workers "is outrageous," she said. Her job fair attracted a dozen people, including a Ridgewood woman in her 40s who has been working full-time as an administrative assistant and wants to move to a larger company. "I work for a small company, and there's no opportunity to grow," the woman, who did not want her name published, said Friday. "There isn't a career path for me here. At a larger company, there's more room for branching out. Big companies tend to pay better and offer better benefits."
The woman, who is looking for a job paying at least $35,000 a year, said she has been called for six job interviews in the last two months. She rejected two offers because she didn't want to travel and one because it "was too boring."
Barbara Landsman of Garfield said she went to the job fair because she is "looking for something more permanent" than the temporary job she does as an administrative assistant several times a week. "The job fair went very well," said Landsman, who is in her mid-30s. "I'm sure I'll be working someplace permanently after the Memorial Day holiday."