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Some companies still plan large hiring efforts despite tight labor market, economic warning signs

Three people, captured from behind, standing over a factory or warehouse floor talking.
FILE PHOTO: Justin Hicks
IPB News
Some companies are still planning major hiring efforts in Indiana despite the current tight labor market and warning signs of an economic downturn.

Indiana’s September unemployment rate remained near historic lows at 2.7 percent, preliminary federal data show, re-emphasizing how difficult it is for employers to find and attract workers in this labor market.

At the same time, federal preliminary data for August showed an increase in Indiana’s layoffs anda significant decrease in the number of total job openings over the previous month. August’s data is the newest available for state layoffs and job openings.

In an interview last week, Purdue Fort Wayne economist Zafar Nazarov said that might be an early sign of the labor market softening and an incoming general economic recession, which many economists say seems increasingly likely as a result ofsupply chain issues, inflation and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to fight inflation.

And yet, some companies are still planning major hiring efforts in the state. For example, online fashion retailer SHEIN expects to hire 1,000 new permanent warehouse workers as part of an expansion at its facility in Whitestown by the end of 2022.

Amazon also plans to hire about 1,000 people when its new Elkhart County distribution hub opens in 2023, the South Bend Tribune reports.

Pennsylvania-based e-commerce packing and shipping company Radial plans to hire more than 500 seasonal workers at its fulfillment center near Indianapolis.

The company projects increased demand for the holidays, Andrea Crawford, Radial’s director of contingent labor, said despite federal data showing increasing costs for food, shelter, medical care and other consumer products.

“I will say the demand for e-commerce is still strong, we will really officially kick off our peak hiring in the next week or so,” Crawford said. “The client forecasts are strong [and] we're staffing to those forecasts.”

Consumer spending rose most months in 2022 up to August, the latest available month in federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Crawford said she’s confident Radial will be able to hire enough seasonal workers at the Brownsburg facility even though the state and national labor market is so tight. The company is also hiring thousands of workers at facilities in Kentucky, California and other states.

“When we look at how current economic conditions are impacting the labor market, what we're seeing is that we do have a pool of people that are interested, willing to come to work to do seasonal jobs and potentially be interested in retaining those jobs after,” she said.

There are opportunities for seasonal Radial workers to get full-time jobs with the company, Crawford said. She also points to the decision to hire fewer workers and bring them on board closer to the peak demand period than the company has in previous years as another measure that will help ensure the company meets its hiring needs.

“We're really going to make sure we're being strategic about when we onboard labor, the experience that we give them … the training that we're able to provide for them,” she said. “And really just make sure from at least a peak labor perspective, that we're bringing people on closer to the time when they actually need to do the work, that their earnings potential remains high.”

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The company also conducts surveys ahead of every peak season to see what workers are seeking from a job.

“We obviously offer a competitive wage for the markets that we do business in, including Indianapolis, but we can also tell through some of our survey results that there are a lot of things that are important to people as they're looking to take a seasonal job,” she said.

Radial’s seasonal employees can make up to $17.95 an hour. The average hourly wage for packaging workers in Indianapolis was $13.22 in May 2021, according tothe newest available federal data.

“We're doing things like looking at our schedule availability, and really trying to match that with what candidates in any given market are looking for,” Crawford said. “So we have a variety of different schedules that we make available during our peak season, anything from part-time to offering flexibility within some of those roles. And we know also through our survey results that, really, people are looking for a great place to work.”

If the consumer demand or hires fall short of the company's expectations, Crawford said there are “contingency plans” in place.

Radial will host a hiring fair for the seasonal positions Nov. 8-10.

Contact reporter Adam at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

Adam is Indiana Public Broadcasting's labor and employment reporter. He was born and raised in southeast Michigan, where he got his first job as a sandwich artist at Subway in high school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2019, he joined Michigan Radio's Stateside show as a production assistant. He then became the rural and small communities reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado.