What’s Working: Colorado employers say there’s still a labor shortage even as more jobs are filled


Colorado employers may be facing some of the highest inflation in decades, not to mention talk of recession (no, one hasn’t been officially announced). But one thing that may be finally easing up is attracting enough workers.

It’s still bad, just not as bad as it was a year ago, said Curtis Englehart, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, a job he started this week. He previously led the Mesa County Workforce Center and helped employers and workers connect throughout the pandemic. 

“We’re still seeing a healthy amount of job openings coming into Mesa County. However, it has leveled off tremendously from 2021,” Englehart said. “What I believe is happening now is really twofold: One is you can’t keep up with that high demand of jobs coming in that frequently. And two, I feel like those jobs are actually starting to get filled. I’m not saying that there still isn’t a labor shortage out there. There definitely is and it’s still really hard to find employees. However, 2021 was an extremely difficult and unprecedented year when it came to finding employees.”

The number of job openings is in decline, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data. And the nation added more than a half-million payroll jobs in July, which lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 3.5%. But for every one of the estimated 111,800 unemployed Coloradans in June, there were nearly two jobs available.

As mentioned in previous columns, there remains a disconnect between employers and workers. One employer, who’s still hiring, bemoaned salary demands as “exceeding what we can afford,” which was shared in the latest What’s Working employer survey. Another employer said he’s finally filled a job that was open for seven months, which helped ease his existing maintenance crew’s workload.

“With the vacancy filled, morale is higher,” said Nathan Nosari, general manager at The Village at Breckenridge HOA, a residential community at the base of Peak 9.

But it wasn’t like the old days. Nosari said that after searching since January, two things changed. He increased the pay 14% to start at $24 an hour (and top out at $28) and around the same time, a ski resort employee who already lived in the area and was familiar with the Breckenridge community was hunting for a new job.

“She had to work two jobs to make ends meet. Now she doesn’t. And she’s very happy about that because she can devote her time to what she really wants to do, which is start teaching English as a second language where she can start traveling,” Nosari said.

But ultimately, it’s tough to find workers in his community even if you offer higher wages. There’s just not enough affordable places to live. “There’s no housing and if they do have housing, it’s very costly,” he said. 

Too many jobs, not enough workers?

The state’s official job board, ConnectingColorado.com may not be a good gauge for actual openings in Colorado. On Wednesday, there were 117,403 open jobs listed. A day later, there were 143,583 jobs, after more than 25,000 new “location-neutral” openings flooded the board.

A spokesperson from the state Department of Labor and Employment said the jobs data for the site comes from all sorts of sources, including jobs outside of Colorado with remote opportunities “so these types of fluctuations are not uncommon.”

Later Friday, the number of open jobs fell back to 117,878.

What a difference two hours and 11 minutes makes. On Aug. 5, 2022, the number of job listings on the state’s official job board at ConnectingColorado.com plummeted by more than 27,000 jobs in just over two hours. (Screengrab)

Meanwhile, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a more consistent estimate on job openings in Colorado and nationwide. On Tuesday, the BLS announced job openings fell 6.6% nationwide in June, or down 605,000 since May to 10.7 million. Colorado numbers are not yet available, but job openings in the West region fell 6.1%.

Englehart, with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said it seems like there are more jobs in his region than people who can work them. 

“I would say there’s not a lot of people that are on unemployment or not working in Mesa County,” he said. “I think the disconnect is that there are more job openings than there are individuals looking for work. That’s where the labor shortage really is. There was such a huge demand and uptick in job openings over the last two years that there really aren’t enough people to fill all those positions.”

He pointed out that shortages affect industries differently. Many workers may have switched from restaurant work to warehouse work, for example. According to the latest state Department of Labor and Employment analysis, the Colorado industries that gained the most jobs since the April 2020 pandemic drop were:

  • Transportation, warehousing and utilities, +733%
  • Finance and insurance, +700%
  • Professional, scientific and technical, +451%
  • Management of companies and enterprises, +200%
  • Construction, +163%

Industries that have not fully recovered all the lost jobs include:

  • Government, which has lost additional jobs since April 2020
  • Mining and logging, which also have lost more jobs since April 2020
  • Private health care and social assistance, +93%
  • Accomodation and food services, +95%
  • Administrative and support and waste management, +96%
Several Colorado industries have recovered the jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic and added many more. Jobs in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, which include employers like Amazon and its distribution centers, have grown 733% since the low point in April 2020. The data is from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. (Screenshot)

Then again, Englehart said he feels there are still people returning to work who left during the pandemic for one reason or another.

“We saw that during the pandemic, there were dual income earners within one household where one decided to stay home with the kids,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of those individuals return to the workforce. We’re also seeing individuals that were employed in certain industries look for work in other industries, specifically (to get out of) retail and food service.”

The Mesa County Workforce Center also received rural workforce grants to invest in training and apprenticeship programs to help local employers. It also created a shared position with Colorado Mesa University where that person’s job is to connect with recent college graduates and alumni and try to keep them in the area.

“Workforce is still at a premium,” he said. “There’s a lot of other concerns with inflation and supply chain issues, but the workforce is still up there with all those and, you know, the looming recession is a worry at this time. But we’re not in a recession right now.”

Take the poll: Are you still hiring? Tell us at cosun.co/hiringtrends

→ Another reason why Colorado’s job openings dropped: The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, says an analysis by Appcast, a job advertising site. That’s the state law requiring any employer with a job opening fit for a Coloradan to post the wage. After it went into effect Jan. 1, 2021, Colorado’s labor force participation rate increased 1.5% more than Utah’s, which has a similar economy but no similar equal pay law. In other words, more people joined Colorado’s workforce, expanding the talent pool for employers and recruiters. It also pulled workers back in, the analysis essentially concludes. “Even the already-employed browse for a new job opportunity. And the single most important factor these job seekers are looking for is pay,” the report says.  “Job seekers are thirsty for information on pay. >> Report

Job fairs work, says United, which is hosting its third in past year

The last two times United held job fairs in Denver, in August 2021 and then again in March, it attracted 1,000 people and made 400 job offers. Those led to adding 1,000 people to its customer service team six months ahead of its 2023 goal.

So, sorry, United doesn’t need any more customer service workers.

Denver International Airport employees load cargo packages into the United Airlines aircraft on April 27, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

But the airline is hosting its third local job fair in a year on Tuesday because, as the company expands operations in Denver, it needs more flight attendants, ramp services employees and folks for its technical operations. It has 600 openings that include full and part time.

“The reason we continue to be proactive with our career fairs is because we have seen great interest and success at our previous career fairs,” United spokesman Russell Carlton said in an email. “This approach helps us keep people in the pipeline and build our employee base as we grow and account for things like training — for instance, training for ramp agents takes five weeks before they are in the field. This career fair is to help us have people in the field come this fall and winter.”

United’s job fair is Aug. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at United Club at Empower Field at Mile High, 1701 Bryant Street in Denver >> More details

Nearly 1,000 people showed up on Mar. 29, 2022 for United Airlines job fair at the United Club at Empower Field at Mile High stadium. Before it started, people were already lining up to get in. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

More job fairs and hiring events:

FedEx: Aug. 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at CentrePoint Plaza, 14980 E. Alameda in Aurora. Jobs start at $20 an hour. >> Register

Skyline Products: Hiring drivers, mechanical installers, warehouse technicians and more at an in person hiring event on Aug. 11 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs.  >> Register

Colorado Department of Corrections has a few in different locations:

  • Ordway: Aug. 9, noon to 5 p.m. at Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, 12750 CO-96 at Lane 13 in Ordway. >> Register
  • Buena Vista: Aug. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Buena Vista Correctional Complex, 15125 Hwy 24 & 285, Buena Vista >> Register

An expired tax credit that is still available

For companies that kept their workers through the pandemic and lived to tell about it, the Employee Retention Tax Credit was available through the end of 2021. But even though the deadline has passed, the credit can still be claimed on amended payroll tax returns in some cases for up to three years, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Bill Airy, president of small business lender Lendio Denver, said companies can apply retroactively and his company will do it for those employers. 

“Hardly anyone knows about it. And anybody who does know about it doesn’t understand it because the application for the refund is 170 pages,” said Airy, who started the local Lendio franchise with his wife, Leanne. 

Lendio partnered with accountants to help small businesses see if they qualify. If they do, Lendio takes a 15% cut and the rest of the tax credit goes to the business. But if they don’t, the business doesn’t pay Lendio a cent.

There are eligibility rules, however, including a requirement that a company’s revenues were impacted by the government shutdowns or other criteria. You can read about them on the IRS’s website. But if you don’t want to do it yourself, there are companies like Lendio Denver, which also offers guidance for free. >> lendiodenver.com

→ Small business organization NFIB shares its own advice on getting an up to $26,000 tax credit >> Tips

Union activity updates

Workers at more Colorado Starbucks stores join the effort to unionize with the Greeley location at 11th Avenue petitioning the National Labor Relations Board for representation, the Starbucks Workers United organizers announced Friday.  Here’s the workers’ letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Other economic working bits

→ Unemployment delays continue: There’s still a warning of a 10-12 week delay to get new jobless claims processed, according to the state’s MyUI+ portal page. When we first reported this three weeks ago, state Department of Labor officials said the logjam was due to old pandemic claims that are now getting investigated. A department spokesperson said improvements to speed up the processing is still new but “is trending in the right direction and we have every belief processing time will be reduced and begin moving closer to our ultimate goal of processing claims within three to four weeks of the claim filing.” Still waiting? Share your story at [email protected]. >> Original story

→ Construction and aerospace training grant in Denver: UnidosUS, previously known as the National Council of La Raza, received an $11.4 million grant as part of the Good Jobs Challenge from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The funds will be used to train Latino populations in Puerto Rico and Denver for jobs in construction and aerospace. UnidosUS partnered with Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver for local training programs. >> Details 

→ Denver apartment rents up 12.6%: Metro Denver rents grew 12.6% from a year ago to $1,860 in the second quarter this year, which was also up 5.3% from the first quarter. “The key to housing affordability is housing supply,” Drew Hamrick, with the Colorado Apartment Association, said in a statement. “We need to incentivize new development through sensible, pro-building policies like tax credits, development grants and permit-fee reductions. If we don’t increase our rate of construction, prices will continue to rise.” About 4,000 new units were added in the second quarter and 6,000 more will be completed by the end of 2022, the association estimated. 

Gov. Jared Polis announces that TABOR refund checks this year will be larger than initially anticipated. The Democrat didn’t, however, mention TABOR. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

→ $750 TABOR checks on the way: When Colorado’s tax collection is higher than the rate of inflation compared to population growth, taxpayers get a refund as part of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. There are other intricacies about this year’s refund, as Sun reporter Jesse Paul has covered. But if you’re eligible, expect $750 for individuals and $1,500 for joint filers. >> Read

→ $260 settlement checks: For 7,000 Coloradans caught up in a predatory student loan service Navient, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said checks of $260 per victim are on the way. The pursuit of the settlement came after uncovering evidence that “Navient steered struggling student loan borrowers into costly long-term forbearances instead of counseling them,” the AG’s office said. As part of the settlement, more than 1,000 Coloradans are also getting loan forgiveness.


Share your two cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. See you next week! ~ tamara 


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