Whether you are an employer looking to hire a qualified candidate, or a job seeker in search of solid position with a future, it’s fair to say that the employment landscape has been transformed by the pandemic.

The good news is that there is a path past COVID-19.

The better news is that company leaders are aware of the available applicant pool and are looking at innovative ways to up their game to snag valuable employees that will help push their businesses forward.

At a recent hiring party hosted by Diamond Brand Gear in Fletcher, North Carolina, the company that designs and sells accessories related to an outdoor lifestyle welcomed job candidates to a picnic-style event that featured hands-on sewing demonstrations, factory tours, staff meet-and-greets, onsite interviews and lots of branded gifts.

During the afternoon, lunch was served and activities like a bounce house and ping pong tournament kept families busy while prospective employees were able to tour the production floor and spend time making gear that they got to take home.

According to Molly Gaffney-Keebler, who owns Spherion Staffing and Recruiting in Asheville, which services five counties in Western North Carolina, including Buncombe and Haywood, “We’re going to get through this. If you are a business owner with the attitude of, ‘OK, what am I going to do now?’ and have the attitude that you’re going to overcome this latest challenge, you’re going to overcome this.”

And to Gaffney-Keebler, that means practicing what she calls the three pillars: Adaptability, flexibility and innovation.

“Our clients who are doing that are seeing a difference,” she said.

While Spherion Staffing works with mostly mid- to large companies that average 50 employees, Gaffney-Keebler says her agency also serves individual clients, as well as local business owners who employ a few individuals.

“Western North Carolina is home to several manufacturers and a lot of that opportunity is ramping up right now,” she said. “I’m seeing a shift to in-person work right now as more and more people get vaccinated. We’ve helped place many workers who’ve come from the service industry into manufacturing jobs for a list of reasons. What they’re telling us is that COVID gave them time to re-evaluate things. Some talk about unstable wages, long hours and the frustration they’ve had with the amount of customer service they have to provide and dealing with people.”

Following in the footsteps of the well-attended $17 per Hour and Beyond Job Fair sponsored by Mountain Area Workforce and NC Works in June, Gaffney-Keebler said companies are individually thinking of ways to attract workers.

At Spherion, for example, Gaffney-Keebler said her company kicked off a 10-week staffing sweepstakes that will culminate on Sept. 15 leading into National Staffing Week.

“The goal of the sweepstakes is to recruit and retain employees,” Gaffney-Keebler said. “During the event, we’ll be giving away daily prizes like MacBooks, TVs and GoPros to any one of our employees who are currently active and on assignment. And every week they work for us they are eligible to enter the grand prize drawing for a 2021 Ford Mustang.”

According to a recent Bloomberg News poll, 40% of surveyed job candidates responded that after a a year of working from home, remote work options are at the top of their list.

While Gaffney-Keebler says her agency can’t speak specifically to that claim, as Spherion places workers in more boots-on-the-ground-types of jobs, she can say that she receives questions about workplace safety and what companies are doing to ensure a safe environment in the wake of COVID-19

“We discuss policies and procedures that are in place, and talk about proactive efforts companies are pursuing to relieve anxiety of workers returning to job sites,” she said.

So Many Jobs, So Little Offers

While companies can afford to experiment with offering higher starting wages, flexible work schedules and innovate job fairs, what can a qualified individual do to get in front of a hiring manager?

Despite myriad “For Hire” signs and ads posted on popular websites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster and so on, Gaffney-Keebler said she hears from job seekers who, for whatever reason, seem to be striking out when it comes to their searches.

Her advice: “I like to tell clients that we are a tool in their tool box. We advocate for our candidates and we advocate for our clients. When we do our interview process we really listen because it’s in our best interest for our clients and candidates. If we don’t do that then we’re really wasting everyone’s time. So, when a candidate is really struggling, we can help them get started on a job search to help them build their confidence.”

And just how much does that ego boost cost?

Nothing, according to Gaffmeu-Keebler, who also advocates for the strength of working with a local company. Each Spherion agency is individually owned and operated locally.

Gaffney-Keebler will celebrate five years of owning Spherion Staffing Asheville in September.

“I moved here from Southern Illinois where I taught English composition, Gaffney-Keebler said. “I come from an education background that lends itself to helping people. This is what motivates me.”

When she is able to successfully place someone in a job, Gaffney-Keebler said it’s the best feeling.

“There is no better reward for me than someone calling us or coming into the office and thanking us because they had such a great experience. It gives me immense joy. It humbles me and is extremely gratifying to know we’ve helped someone because we’re all in this together.”

Spherion Staffing is a franchised company that is part of Randstad Holding, which has been associated with the staffing industry for 75 years.

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