West Michigan Works! survey brings into focus barriers faced by job seekers

A new West Michigan study is providing insight into what is causing a shortage of workers during a time of mass unemployment.

The COVID-19 unemployment survey, published by West Michigan Works!, a regional workforce development agency, indicates there are barriers making it hard for workers to find jobs that are a good fit for them.

Nearly three-quarters of all survey respondents indicated they were actively looking for work. However, the top two barriers to finding work were identified as potential low wages and the job seekers’ skills not aligned with the skills required for the available position.  

“We know that the issues job seekers are facing are complicated,” says Brittany Lenertz, regional service center director for West Michigan Works! “The amount of effort they were able to put toward job searching varied, but despite the amount of effort, most seemed to have very little success finding work.” 

Respondents reported having higher skills than what is required by entry-level jobs and not having high enough skills for available mid-skill positions.  

Top reported barriers

The respondents identified the top barriers to returning to work as safety, feelings of anxiety or dread, and high risk for contracting COVID-19. For respondents with children, child care and virtual school were reported as barriers to working.  

Conducted by the Calvin University Center for Social Research, the study is designed to help workforce development teams and employers better understand the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the current state of the Michigan job market and workforce. 

“After noticing a reduction in engagement with our services and hiring events among job seekers, we sought to better understand how the region’s workforce felt about returning to work after the pandemic,” says Lenertz. “Our goal was to understand the apparent mismatch between supply and demand for talent during a time of mass unemployment.” 

The report comes as local counties are seeing an uptick in unemployment rates, according to the latest data released June 24, by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget for the month of May: 
  • Ottawa County - 4.3%
  • Allegan County - 4.8%
  • Kent County - 4.9%
  • Muskegon - 7.9% 

Brainstorming solutions

The research findings are being used to guide conversations by West Michigan Works!’ Industry Talent Councils to brainstorm solutions for the current talent shortage. 

“We are presenting the survey data to West Michigan employers and using it to help inform changes to our service offerings, including what format and how we conduct outreach for those services,” Lenertz said.

The survey results include responses from 806 individuals representing all seven West Michigan Works! service counties — Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, and Ottawa. Nearly 86% of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 64. Responses were collected between Jan. 19 and March 15.


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.