Maine Dept. of Labor publishes findings on job seekers’ barriers to returning to work

Mon, 09/20/2021 - 5:30am

On September 17, 2021, The Maine Department of Labor released the results of a July 2021 survey of unemployment insurance claimants and active jobseekers about barriers preventing them from returning to work.

In total, more than 2,600 individuals responded to the anonymous survey, describing a variety of barriers impacting their ability to rejoin the workforce, including concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of access to child care and transportation, and a mismatch between their own skills and available jobs, among others.

“This survey reinforces the fact that there is no one size fits all solution to getting Maine people back to work and that our approach has to address underlying issues impacting our workforce,” said Commissioner Laura Fortman, in a MDOL news release. “The Department of Labor will continue to listen to the voices of Maine workers as we strive to enhance our programs to ensure they are effective, both at meeting the needs of employers and employees and in contributing to our economic recovery as a state.”    

Survey responses show that there is no single barrier keeping people out of the workforce. The most commonly cited barriers included:

· “Lack of opportunities that match my skillset”

· “COVID health risks or concerns”

· “Job quality concerns” regarding insufficient wages, lack of benefits, unpredictable schedule or lack of long-term positions

· Inaccessibility of relevant opportunities including lack of relevant jobs in the local area

· Lack of necessary social supports including lack of reliable childcare and transportation

Other barriers cited were age-related discrimination, challenges getting interviews in the competitive market, and self-employment challenges related to economic recession.

“On behalf of our 218,000 members in the state, AARP Maine applauds the release of this important study by the Maine Department of Labor,” said Noël Bonam, AARP Maine State Director. “According to a 2018 AARP survey, 76 percent of older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.[i] Age-bias and the other obstacles raised in the Department’s study will serve as a gateway to improve opportunities for Mainers of all ages as they seek employment.”

“Employers across the state are looking to hire in this challenging labor market,” said Matthew Lewis, President and CEO of HospitalityMaine. “We recognize that there are significant barriers that many job seekers are facing as they look to rejoin the workforce. These are challenges that we will need to work together to solve. There are currently many opportunities in the hospitality industry, and we are committed to working with state agencies and other employers on creative solutions.”

“Maine workers face challenges balancing work and family amidst a surging global pandemic. We applaud the Maine Department of Labor for hearing directly from workers on the systemic issues they face in finding good jobs,” said Matt Schlobohm, Executive Director of the Maine AFL-CIO.  “The most tried and true method to recruit and retain workers is to offer good pay and benefits. We’ve heard firsthand from lots of Maine workers that age discrimination, COVID related workplace health and safety, reliable and affordable childcare and access to living wage jobs with benefits remain significant challenges. We must continue working together to address these systemic issues.”

The Maine Department of Labor provides workshopslocal and virtual hiring events and postings on Maine JobLink to help connect workers to job opportunities, but the survey will help the Department’s approach to getting Maine people back to work. To that end, the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan proposed by the Governor and enacted by the Legislature earlier this summer includes significant federal investment to address many of the barriers cited by Maine workers in the Department’s survey, including investment in training and skills-building opportunities and infrastructure such as housing, childcare and transportation.

The full findings of the survey, which was also translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Vietnamese, can be found here: