More than 110,000 positions in Connecticut remain open. Because of this, employers engage in a “constant battle” for hiring. – Hartford Courant

Electric Boat is hiring welders as fast as the submarine builder can find them. Highland Park Market is hiring Entry Level Supermarket Clerks. And during sweltering heat this summer, broken air conditioners were left unfixed for lack of technicians.

In Connecticut and across the US, employers in almost every industry are scrambling to find workers who have quit, retired or are handicapped by a lack of transportation and childcare during the pandemic.

“Everyone is looking for new hires,” said Cathy White, Electric Boat’s director of talent acquisition. “The competition for skilled workers is tough.”

The subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. is facing US Navy deadlines to produce two nuclear submarines per year, in addition to starting production of the next-generation Columbia class, setting a pace only imaginable a few years ago.

Electric Boat, with yards in Groton and Quonset Point, Rhode Island, expects to hire 500 welders this year with starting wages of nearly $22 an hour, White said. Hiring managers employ various strategies such as: job fair; contacting high schools, technical schools and colleges; and appearing at events such as Military Appreciation Day in New London in August, a summer boat festival in Hartford, and the Travelers Championship in June.

Timothy Devanney, one of the owners of Highland Park Market, which operates three supermarkets in Farmington, Glastonbury and Manchester, said the hiring was an “ongoing struggle”.

Ten applicants respond to a job posting and managers reach four. Two come in for an interview and one gets hired. It’s a “50-50 shot” when the successful job seeker shows up for work, he said.

Highland Park Market, which closed two hours earlier at 7pm during the pandemic, has maintained reduced hours due to labor shortages, Devanney said.

Stop & Shop, which says it’s hiring for all departments, shifts and jobs, planned a recruitment fair in August to fill more than 400 permanent, part-time positions in e-commerce and stores, including positions in bakery, deli, groceries and Seafood and production departments. The supermarket chain hired 185 part-time workers for its Connecticut stores as a result of the job fair. Openings remain for night shifts, cashiers, porters, baggers and home shoppers.

Police departments are also struggling with bottlenecks caused by retirements and difficulties in finding candidates, said John Ventura, chief of the Wallingford Police Department. “People don’t go into law enforcement. It’s not an attractive landing site for humans,” he said.

Job opportunities that once drew 500 to 1,000 potential candidates now attract fewer than a dozen, Ventura said.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday reported 113,000 job openings in Connecticut in July, forcing employers to figure out how to find workers or work around shortages by offering more overtime and cutting hours. Nationally, July’s job vacancies rose to 11.2 million from 11 million in June.

The number of open positions is 41% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, when available positions in Connecticut did not exceed 80,000, said Patrick Flaherty, director of research at the State Department of Labor.

The state Department of Labor reported 77,800 unemployed in August, down 35,200 from the number of job postings. In comparison, the year before the pandemic, 68,700 unemployed outnumbered 65,000 job vacancies.

“This is both a Connecticut issue and a national issue,” Flaherty said. “Unfortunately, some people who were in the workforce before the pandemic have not returned. Some died. Some had contracted COVID.”

Economist Donald Klepper-Smith warned against reading too much into job vacancy data released by federal officials. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes in the economy, he said: shortages of labor and supplies, high inflation after years of price stability, and an abrupt change in work as employees work from home.

“People try to explain in simple terms that there are more jobs than people,” he said. “There’s a lot of extrapolation involved. It’s a spongy number.”

The sectors with the most vacancies are healthcare and social care, retail, manufacturing, and finance and insurance, according to Connecticut’s Help Wanted Online Data Series.

Labor shortages in the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning industry are so acute that employers are having “a very difficult time attracting new customers,” said Stillman Jordan, government chair of the Connecticut Heating and Cooling Contractors Association.

At peak times during this summer’s heatwaves, air-conditioning repair workers could not be found, he said.

Rob Friedland, chief executive officer of Columbia Manufacturing Inc., which makes components for turbine engines, said welders and inspectors with aviation experience are the hardest to find.

He has “quite given up hope” of finding experienced welders and instead is hiring young workers who will be trained after school at the manufacturer in Colombia, he said.

Friedland said a shortage of welders, in demand in numerous industries such as construction and manufacturing, will be exacerbated as commercial aviation recovers from its low point during the pandemic, when airline fleets were grounded

“We’ll all be looking for people,” he said. “I don’t expect things to get better any time soon.”

Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said the labor shortage follows the state’s stagnant population, which has remained largely unchanged since the 2008-2009 recession.

More housing is needed, particularly near public transport, and can be encouraged by incentivizing builders to refurbish derelict homes, he said.

DiPentima also cited Connecticut’s cost of living and targeted the state’s gift tax, which he says “comes into play” with business successions. Connecticut is the only state that collects the tax, according to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research group.

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There is no single explanation for the labor shortage. Flaherty said that for every worker “missing” from the workforce, “there’s probably a reason and a strategy.”

Jordan blamed the shortage of heating and refrigeration repair workers on a college emphasis on trade schools and restrictive Connecticut state policies, contested by organized labor, that limit the number of apprentices who can be hired.

The lack of local police is a result of ample opportunities at other agencies, Ventura said. According to a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, recruitment problems stem from “several social, political and economic forces,” including an increasing emphasis on staff work-life balance and public perceptions of the police following high-profile police shootings.

Conglomerates are feeling the effects of labor shortages, compounded by the size of the companies. CEO Greg Hayes said Raytheon Technologies Corp., the parent company of jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney and two military and intelligence units, started the year with 174,000 employees. The Arlington, Virginia-based company hired more than 23,000 people this year, about half of whom are engineers, it told an industry analysts’ conference on Wednesday.

About 15,000 employees have left the company and 13,000 positions remain open after hiring, he said.

“That’s the challenge we all have: Where are all these workers going to come from?” Hayes said.

Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected].

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