Vermont businesses are finding ways to cope

Peter Asch, president and CEO of Twincraft Skincare in Winooski, Vermont, says his contract soapmaking business has seen “pretty substantial” growth in the two years since the coronavirus pandemic began. COVID-19 in March 2020, hiring over 160 new employees.

Twincraft has a total of around 320 employees, according to Asch, meaning it has doubled its workforce during the pandemic. Asch said 97% of its employees are vaccinated.

“It’s a tough time to find people because there are fewer people available looking for jobs than before,” Asch said. “So far we’ve been pretty good at hiring a group of people who have also stayed with us.”

Twincraft Skincare CEO Peter Asch discusses his company's entry into the liquid soap market at Winooski on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

It’s definitely a tough time to hire people, especially in Vermont.

Quick to lose jobs, slow to get them back

Vermont has lost 63,500 “non-farm” jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a state financial report, and is slow to recover those jobs compared to other states.

The state recovered 69.9% of those lost jobs, the report said, leaving about 19,100 jobs to recover before Vermont’s job numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.

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“Vermont’s percentage of non-farm payroll jobs remaining to be recovered compares unfavorably to the U.S. average, which was 18.8% of jobs remaining to be recovered versus those lost during the pandemic-induced downturn,” explains the report.

A flyer from the Burlington Tenants Union affixed to a recycling bin on College Street in Burlington seeks to organize tenants, seen Friday, May 1, 2020.

By comparison, Vermont still has about 30% of its jobs lost to the pandemic to recover. The financial report attributes Vermont’s slow job recovery to the state’s reliance on travel and tourism.

“This sector has been disproportionately and negatively impacted by the pandemic,” the report said.

Vermont JobLink, an online recruiting site, currently has about 13,500 vacancies, Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said.

“The problem is, we don’t have 13,500 or more people looking for jobs in Vermont right now,” he said. “We only have about 3,700 unemployed, so we’re going to have to look at other ways (to fill those jobs): people who have retired and want to get back into the job market; expanding the opportunities for training; ensuring students graduate from high school or college in Vermont.”

Flexible corporate culture makes the difference

How has Asch been able to hire the people he needs in a climate of low unemployment and high labor demand? He said it all depends on the corporate culture.

“We have a strong, positive and healthy culture and it’s flexible,” Asch said. “We have worked very hard to have an individualistic culture. We look at what people need as individuals and try to adapt to those needs instead of applying all the rules uniformly.”

Ray Shortsleeve works on grinding and mixing soap base at Twincraft Soap in Winooski on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

A 60-year-old Twincraft employee might be interested in more free time to spend with his grandchildren, Asch explained, while a 30-year-old employee might prioritize a higher salary to manage mortgage payments. . Asch said it was a “loophole” when management tells employees they should be treated the same as everyone else.

“We see this in businesses all the time,” he said. “It causes stress and dissatisfaction in an organization. Why not approach the issues on an individual basis? things that come from the heart. It made a big difference.”

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Asch admits it’s harder to take an individualized approach to employees rather than applying the rules the same way to everyone, but he thinks it’s worth it. Twincraft is also open to hiring family members of current employees, unlike many companies, as long as nepotism does not creep into the image, giving those family members unfair advantages.

“An employee who recommends a family member will ensure that they succeed in the company as much as possible,” Asch said. “It sounds good to me.”

Waiting for the dust to settle

Labor Commissioner Harrington said the pandemic has prompted many Vermonters to change jobs, leave the workforce or even retire.

People with young children took the opportunity to stay home instead of working, he said, believing it was a better use of their time and finances to take care of their children full time. People who had reached or even passed retirement age felt that the health risks associated with work were no longer worth it and retired.

“What we have now is a turnover in the labor sphere,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of dust flying around and we need to see where the dust is settling.”

Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with the support of our readers.

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