Worker shortage hits Louisiana government as applicants for state jobs plummet 52%

The worker shortage that has disrupted private industry has spilled over to state government, where job applications are down 52% in the past two years.

“The pandemic kind of changed people’s view of work,” said Byron P. Decoteau Jr., director of Louisiana State Civil Service.

“They just can’t recruit and attract,” Decoteau said of state agencies.

The state got 45,332 applications for jobs in January of 2020, two months before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In January 2022 that number tumbled to just 21,649 job seekers.

In addition, agency leaders are routinely asking the state Civil Service Commission for permission to boost starting pay, or increase existing pay by $1 or $2 per hour, to attract and retain workers.

“Agencies are struggling,” Decoteau said.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne agreed.

“That is absolutely a concern,” Dardenne said of the 52% drop in job seekers. “It also manifests itself with the inability to find qualified people to fill the positions.”

The trends are part of what has been dubbed the “great resignation,” the seismic shift in the workplace sparked by the pandemic.

It also dovetails with what private industry leaders have been saying for months – problems finding employees to fill jobs that were easily filled before the pandemic.

Leaders of nearly half of small businesses in Louisiana say they cannot fill jobs, and 24% of roughly 3,800 firms say the problem is significant.

“And when they do get workers they are not really qualified, they do not have the skills that one would hope they have coming into the workforce,” said Dawn Starns McVea, senior state director for Louisiana and five other states in the National Federation of Independent Business.

The capital region has about 30,000 job openings and around 13,000 people looking for work, said Andrew Fitzgerald, senior vice-president of business intelligence for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Fitzgerald called the gap huge compared to normal times, when the number of job openings and job seekers are about the same.

Jim Patterson, vice-president of government relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the worker shortage remains an issue for many of the 2,000 firms that belong to LABI.

Patterson said the predicament often means those on the payroll are overworked, fatigued from the pandemic and grappling with the nation’s worst inflation in 40 years.

“A lot of these challenges are giving fits to employers,” Patterson said.

The plunge in the ranks of those seeking state and other jobs has triggered a wide range of theories.

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