Of the 28,000 jobs available across Long Island, employment opportunities run the gamut.
The most frequently advertised online are in healthcare, hospitality, finance, public service, education, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy and other fields, experts say.
Across Long Island, leaders in government, education and the private sector are connecting and addressing the problems facing employers and employees. Matching job openings with talent remains a challenge in a lingering pandemic environment.
If you are looking for work on Long Island, there are jobs. The unemployment rate here for December was 2.6 percent, the lowest level since at least 1998, according to the most recent numbers from the New York State Department of Labor.
“The latest jobs report is quite positive,” said Martin Melkonian, economics profess at Hofstra University, referring to new hires.
The added jobs indicated a “recovering economy,” Melkonian said.
But “whether this will be sustained is questionable,” he said, pointing to what he calls “a virus economy.”
In a virus economy there are enhanced ways of reaching out to and retaining, even training, employees. And employers are starting to see the importance of adjusting to a lingering pandemic economy.
Now leaders across Long Island are trying to link these opportunities with talent, helping to feed the pipeline with a workforce to meet the needs of not only today but also tomorrow. This effort is a multifaceted one, two years into the pandemic as the world continues to navigate new priorities and demands.
Rosalie Drago, Suffolk County’s Department of Labor commissioner, is fostering ways to bring prospects together, eliminating obstacles that may have stood in the way in the past.
Never mind “The Great Resignation.” Drago sees this period in time as “The Great Shift.”
“We’ve all had a chance to look at our lives,” she said, noting that the pandemic forced many to reevaluate where they worked, flexibility options, opportunities, pay and benefits.
As the nation grapples with rising costs and supply chain issues, there are shortages too in key sectors, including restaurants.
“Part of it is due to the fact that people can’t easily get back to work,” Melkonian said. “People are sick, or are caring for sick people. Someone has to be home – all of those factors contributed to a reduction of the workforce.”
Still, he said, the workforce “seems to be coming back. Employers have raised wages partly due to the minimum wage increase in the country.” Yet even a bump to $15 an hour isn’t enough to support a family, he said. And that’s especially true in a climate of skyrocketed housing costs.
Now, “companies are reinventing themselves and save expenses having people work from home,” he said. That effort spares employees time and transportation costs. “It shows up in the large number of offices that are vacant.”
Yet, he said, a lot of people left their jobs “for one reason or another – they could be worn out over time,’ especially in healthcare. “Hopefully, we get around to deal with it, including making it easier for people to be qualified for positions.”
Experts say efforts are underway.
“For any employer in Suffolk County that wants to recruit, we will host a targeted job fair, and do outreach and recruitment,” Drago said. “We currently work with 100 community-based organizations that are on the ground, in the community, so when people want to recruit in a specific zip code, we have those relationships.”
The Labor Department organized these events prior to COVID, but now “what have really been working are smaller events in the community,” she said. Transportation and childcare “have been exacerbated by COVID,” she said. But by holding events within a one-or-two mile radius of an employer has mitigated a lot of those issues.
For example, a Frito Lay job fair for the company’s Wyandanch location was held in Wyandanch, she said.
And the Labor Department is expanding its career services support that it offers to libraries.
Among the many services the Labor Department offers are support with resume writing, job searches, LinkedIn profile updates and an elevator pitch so people finesse how to talk about themselves. The county even has a “career couture” boutique, providing free work attire and where a stylist helps dress people for their jobs. There are classes in computer literacy, Zoom proficiency and more so people gain the necessary qualifications.
Drago pointed to Suffolk County NY Forward, an online resource that is chockfull of data about Long Island for job seekers and employers alike. Here, would-be employees can attain information on selecting a new career, find jobs, locate training and job search assistance. And employers can find candidates, analyze labor market information, locate business services and other support.
“In order for Suffolk County’s innovation economy to thrive, we must ensure businesses have opportunities for growth and current and future employees have the tools and skills needed to fill vacant positions,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement to LIBN.
“We are proud to offer such a diverse host of programs and resources that assist both businesses and job seekers,” he added. “Through training and opportunity awareness, we can boost our economy while assisting residents in starting a new career ogaining meaningful employment.”
The county works with business organizations such as HIA-LI and chambers of commerce to spread the word about the services. And there are programs to help youth get paid work experience in fields they might not yet know about, feeding the talent pipeline for employers.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities are offering cooperative programs, giving students real-life work experience.
Tech guru Peter Goldsmith recently began working with New York Institute of Technology, to build a pipeline of workers in the computer science field. Other universities host similar programs, including Stony Brook University and Hofstra University, helping employers find and groom talent in a variety of fields.
“The tech companies are really hurting,” Goldsmith said. “They can’t find people with the right skills. They’re trying to grow, and find the correct people.”
At the NYIT program, Goldsmith said, students in the spring semester of their junior or the fall semester of their senior year spend six months, including the summer, working at a company and getting a full salary. In this span, they don’t attend class, but do get “a better idea of what the job entails, get to know the company, and the company gets to know about you,” he said.
Ideally, these students when graduating ultimately net jobs by the employer, and stay on Long Island, fueling the tech sector, he said.
Goldsmith is chairman of LISTnet (Long Island Software & Technology Network), located in Plainview-based Digital Ballpark, home to a number of tech companies, many poised for growth.
“We have to come up with new ideas,” he said. “Employees are the ingredient that will allow growth. Companies may move or outsource to other countries for jobs” if they can’t find talent here. Outsourcing, he said, brings on new challenges, including the ability to manage people day-to-day, meeting with workers at “crazy hours” and coping with language discrepancies. Yet training workers here can be expensive, which is why Goldsmith is looking to help companies share costs by holding classes to help hires keep up with rapidly changing technology.
There are other programs. In addition to career-specific job fairs, Northwell Health recently interviewed candidates, for its “Returnship Program,” who had put their careers on hold to care for a loved one and are ready to get back to their careers.
And New York State announced a $25 million statewide federal grant proposal to reskill and train New Yorkers, including displaced workers in the fossil fuel sector and members of disadvantaged communities, for new clean energy job opportunities. Additionally, CUNY and SUNY colleges would co-develop training programs, including pre-apprenticeships. Participants would be offered “wrap-around services” in transportation, daycare, counseling and other areas.
These services meet local need.
Drago said the county works with organizations – in one instance, United Way – to help subsidize transportation in areas where jobs are hard to get to, especially during a night shift.
Moving dollars away from the defense sector toward social need as well as for training for clean-energy jobs in the region, addressing climate change, would benefit Long Island, Melkonian said.
“It really requires a shift in priorities,” he said. “If you do that, I think life will be good for ourselves and our future generations.”