Now hiring: Despite unemployment spike, many companies looking for workers

June 8, 2020

By Rob Swenson, for SiouxFalls.Business

Harvard Integrations, a manufacturing company in Tea, has not slowed down operations because of the pandemic.

In fact, it has continued to recruit employees and has turned storage closets into offices to maintain physical distancing for staff.

“We have been growing, and when you look at our production schedules, we still need to be growing to meet the needs of our customers. So the recruiting process rolls on,” said Cindy Krekelberg, human resources manager at the company.

Harvard Integrations employs about 115 people in a multiple-building campus along Interstate 29. The company has a unique niche. It makes custom products such as metal enclosures for backup power generation and distribution systems for customers across the United States, including some essential businesses and institutions.

“Right now, I’m probably looking for between eight and 10 people. We’re looking for some fabricators, electricians and mechanical assemblers, primarily,” Krekelberg said.

Like some of its work procedures, Harvard Integrations has modified its hiring processes to enhance safety.

Only the most promising candidates are called in for personal interviews, for example. The interview room is sanitized between candidates.

In addition to her corporate job, Krekelberg is the president of the Sioux Empire Society for Human Resource Management. SESHRM is a group of local human resources professionals who get together to exchange information and ideas.

Krekelberg also has insight into the retail industry. She and her husband, Gary, own Party Land, a party-supply store at 26th Street and Marion Road. Her husband manages that business.

“I get the impression that a lot of employers are staying the course in recruiting and hiring. I’m not seeing or hearing a lot of employers that are backing off on that process,” Krekelberg said.

A check of job sites and interviews with other staffing experts confirms that Harvard Integrations has plenty of company in seeking workers. Although businesses such as restaurants, entertainment centers and some retailers have had to lay off employees and, in some cases, substantially reduce staff because of the outbreak of COVID-19, dozens of employers in the Sioux Falls area continue to hire. Some of them are pursuing candidates at a reduced pace or quantity, however.

Open positions

As of early June, there were more than 4,600 open jobs in the four-county Sioux Falls area listed with, which is the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation’s job bank. That translates to nearly five available jobs for every person in the metropolitan area with documentation indicating that they are actively pursuing work. Available jobs might not line up with a seeker’s skills or geographic preference, however.

Major employers in the Sioux Falls area that have jobs listed with the state service include Sanford Health, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Avera Health, the Sioux Falls School District, Wells Fargo and Smithfield Foods.

Avera has open positions in the region, despite furloughing 650 workers and reducing the hours of hundreds of other employees in April when the organization was adjusting to the pandemic.

Smithfield, a major pork-processing plant that closed temporarily because of the rapid spread of COVID-19, has dozens of categories of open jobs listed. The positions range from production workers to managers. The exact number of open jobs is not indicated.

Other plentiful jobs in the metro area range from positions at fast-food restaurants and customer-service centers to traveling nurses and educators.

The Labor Department’s Job Service office in Sioux Falls serves Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook and Turner counties. Job Service will help employers find employees. It also will help anyone 14 and older in the quest to find work, said Sara Garbe, who manages the local office.

“Right now, that help might be virtual. But hopefully, soon, that will go back to normal. We’re certainly available and willing to assist,” Garbe said.

In-person appointments are available Tuesday and Thursday at the Job Service center for people whose needs can’t be met by phone or through virtual appointments. In-person appointments need to be scheduled by calling 605-367-5300.

Employers that Garbe has been hearing from quite a bit lately include the construction industry.

“This would be the time we’d be seeing a surge in the need for construction workers anyway, anywhere from road construction to the trades,” she said.

Personal service providers and small businesses such as restaurants appear to have been hit especially hard in recent months. However, Garbe and other staffing executives expect them to come back gradually.

Meantime, other industries have stayed busy on the recruiting front.

Continuing to recruit

Sammons Financial Group is among the bigger and midsized companies in Sioux Falls that have continued to recruit and add employees during the pandemic.

Sammons slowed the recruitment process for about two weeks to transition most of its 550 employees to a work-at-home environment, said Rachelle Tieszen, vice president of human resources.

But the company has added 15 employees in Sioux Falls since April 1 and has about a dozen openings. Half of the openings are customer-contact positions; the other half are in technology and administrative roles.

Sammons is a financial services company that specializes in selling life insurance, annuities and retirement investment products. In addition to Sioux Falls, the Iowa-based company has office centers in West Des Moines, Chicago and Fargo. Systemwide, Sammons has 36 job openings – some of which do not have to be based at a specific site, Tieszen said.

“We’ve been very fortunate in that business has been very good during this pandemic. So we’ve had the demand, the business demand, that’s allowed us to continue recruiting,” she said.

“From a transition perspective, we quickly developed protocols to make our interviewing and candidate selection a virtual, no-contact process. We do our on-boarding 100 percent no contact,” she said.

Like a lot of employers, Sammons uses a variety of job-posting sites to attract candidates.

Popular national job boards include Indeed, Facebook and ZipRecruiter. They enable employers to seek employees over a wide area while enabling job-seekers to localize their searches.

KELOLAND Employment, a privately owned service, has built itself into one of the biggest and most heavily used job boards in the Sioux Falls area, according to local staffing experts.

The KELOLAND Employment website is co-managed by the Sioux Falls firm Classified Verticals, which co-manages similar websites for TV stations in Rapid City, Sioux City, Fargo and Bismarck, N.D. The company is developing similar partnerships in other regional cities.

Scott Petersen, a partner at Classified Verticals, estimated that job listings on KELOLAND Employment are down 20 percent because of the pandemic. Even so, there are roughly 1,000 jobs listed, he said.

“Right now, that is definitely less than, say, May of last year, mainly due to large employers. When they go on a hiring freeze, that does affect the job counts pretty dramatically,” Petersen said.

More large companies than small and midsize businesses seem to have slowed or frozen hiring, he said, but some smaller businesses also have delayed adding employees, he said.

One of the biggest changes in hiring trends is evident in the way employers are making use of technology to expand employee-recruitment efforts from local to national job boards, Petersen said.

HireClick is a supplemental service Classified Verticals launched last year. It’s an applicant tracking system that extends the job postings from local sites such as KELOLAND Employment to other job boards in the country. Responses to job postings flow back to the client.

Classified Verticals’ data suggests that the number of visits a job-seeker makes to a particular site is going down, while the number of applicants for jobs is going up. Also, the more complex the application process, the less likely people are to apply, Petersen said.

“The more streamlined that process can be, employers are seeing much, much greater conversions,” he said.

New challenges

In some cases, employers were trying to overcome prior challenges when COVID-19 struck and brought new complications.

For example, the availability of skilled workers for construction jobs in Sioux Falls has never fully bounced back from the recession of 2008-09, said Denise Guzzetta, vice president of talent and workforce development for the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. “We’ve just continued to have shortages,” she said.

Now, in addition to construction, key industries such as health care, manufacturing, food production and financial services generally remain in need of employees at a variety of levels, Guzzetta said.

The Development Foundation assists businesses with talent attraction and workforce development through programs such as information exchanges, which are designed to stimulate business expansion and economic growth.  Activities such student tours of local businesses can be arranged through the Development Foundation.

Roxie Loftesness, the former owner of a staffing service in Sioux Falls, is a semiretired consultant who continues to monitor the local job market. She encourages companies to continue marketing their job openings to keep their employment pipelines flowing.

The market has changed, but hiring continues and will increase again, she said.

This is not a time for job-seekers to sit back and wait either, Loftesness said. However, some job-seekers might want to examine where their skills will be of the greatest value in the future, she said. People who worked in service positions and lost their jobs might want to consider customer-service work in fields such as finance, insurance or medical care, for example, she said.

This is also a great time for members of the workforce to get into skilled trades because a lot of openings exist and a lot of workers are nearing retirement age, Loftesness said.

Doug Erickson, owner of Continuity Business Services, agreed that many companies have continued to hire. They’re just not hiring as many workers as they might have before the pandemic, he said.

“It’s more like onesies rather than a ‘I need five or six people’ type of thing,” Erickson said.

Companies are seeking applicants for jobs in warehousing, distribution, manufacturing, finance and skilled construction-related trades such as electricians, he said.

“It’s a little bit of everything, as it always has been, but it’s not as many or as fast.”

Erickson is in the process of transitioning his company, formerly named Key Staffing, to offer a wider range of business services. In addition to staffing and recruiting help, the company has added services in areas such as human resource management, bookkeeping and accounting, benefits and training.

The pandemic struck early in the transition, but Erickson remains optimistic about the company’s future and the local economy.

“It’s going to come back, but it’s going to be slow,” he said. “We still have job orders. Is it as many as we used to? No. It has slowed, but it’s been steady.”

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