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Here’s where the jobs are in Colorado as unemployment surges during coronavirus’ economic meltdown

Thousands of new jobs available in Colorado in the past week could help offset expenses for laid-off workers or move to a new career

Customers leave Argonaut Wine &Liquor in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood loaded down with alcohol on March 23 after Mayor Hancock's order shutting down the city did not exempt liquor stores — a exemption that was granted just hours later. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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On Wednesday, the Mesa County Workforce Center job hotline shared nine new jobs, including one for a full-time engineer earning $6,322 a month.

A day earlier, there were five new ones, including a part-time youth services specialist paying $22.62 an hour. There’s been a steady flow of new job listings as the shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus has devastated businesses and many employers laid off staff. 

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But the jobs kept trickling in. On Monday, Mesa County had seven new ones, including a full-time aircraft maintenance technician at about $26 an hour. Last Friday, a registered nurse position making $32 an hour was one of 15 new listings.

“I think a lot of job seekers who are getting laid off are thinking they have to wait this thing out, and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center. “We do have job openings, and it might not be something that they thought they would be doing, but it can definitely fill the gap in the meantime.”

The pandemic’s impact on Colorado’s economy has been brutal to small businesses, gig workers and service-industry employees who found their livelihoods thwarted in just a matter of days. Unemployment claims will likely outnumber new jobs for weeks to come. Last week, 26,000 Coloradans filed for unemployment, a number that is five times greater than the peak week during the Great Recession of 2008. And on Tuesday, several companies warned of temporary closures and layoffs due to COVID-19, including 243 workers at Vail’s Four Seasons Resort and 329 at Trans States Airlines, doing business as United Express, in Denver. 

But there are slivers of hope as some companies continue to hire and Congress works out a recovery package to boost pay for unemployed workers and loans to big and small businesses. 

In Mesa County, for example, the number of new jobs so far for March numbered 554 as of March 23. That’s down from before COVID-19 hit, when the county averaged about 1,300 new jobs a month. The majority, however, are for permanent gigs, Englehart said. 

“They’re not seasonal or temporary,” Englehart said. “However, we are seeing more temporary jobs coming through. It’s sporadic and kind of all over the place, but a lot are in health care, a lot of retail and office and administrative support. But again, we’re still seeing more permanent jobs out there than temporary jobs.”

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The types of jobs available

The openings, as well as the thousands more added in the past week, won’t offset the job losses caused by government-mandated closures. And many of the new jobs — from sanitizing shopping carts at Natural Grocers in Durango to a receptionist for Anthem Memory Care in Littleton or a website designer in Denver — are temporary. 

Many haven’t been added to the state’s job portal at connectingcolorado.com, which are listings vetted by the state’s dozens of workforce centers. Last week, the portal added 8,166 new job listings, compared to 8,045 in the same week a year ago, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Employment. 

“This doesn’t really tell a strong story yet but hopefully after some more aggressive outreach and prompt over the coming weeks this number will go up,” said Cher Haavind, the agency’s deputy executive director and spokeswoman.

In the past week, Amazon, King Soopers, Walmart and others have announced thousands of openings in Colorado. Many are looking for ecommerce help for online orders and deliveries. Albertsons Companies, which is hiring 30,000 new workers, partnered with 17 companies, including Hilton hotels, to offer furloughed employees part-time work. Shopping service Instacart said Monday it’s adding 300,000 shoppers nationwide to pick and deliver groceries to consumers.

These are the sorts of jobs that could provide some weekly cash, especially for independent contractors who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

There is also demand for more call center workers, including at the state’s Department of Labor and Employment. The agency posted 300 call center openings last week. By Monday, 90 new employees had started training to, ironically, help folks file unemployment claims. 

Health care companies are also on the hunt. Denver-based CirrusMD —  which connects patients to health care professionals via text or chat —  has seen activity increase 400% in the past two weeks, with 50 to 75% of its chats mentioning “COVID” or “corona.” CirrusMD already had been recruiting heavily and currently has 87% more employees than the same time last year. It doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon because the pandemic has changed how people view telehealth, CirrusMD President Scott Johnson said.

“I think there’s a newfound appreciation for the value that not only we at CirrusMD, but other virtual care health care providers, bring to” access and delivery, Johnson said. 

More: Colorado’s unemployment site slammed by 180,000 filing attempts in a single week

Tweaking the hiring process

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Due to the influx of customers coming in for groceries and toilet paper, Walmart put the call out for an additional 2,900 workers for its Colorado stores last Friday. It eliminated formal interviews and expedited the screening process, thus reducing the time to hire someone to 24 hours instead of two weeks, said Tiffany Wilson, Walmart’s director of communications.

“We’re just trying to speed things up because we have a really strong need for associates in our stores because of the increased demand and increased shopping,” Wilson said. 

Applicants can search for openings at careers.walmart.com, text “JOBS” to 240240 or stop by a store and talk to a manager. The store screens on the spot or over the phone and if the candidate meets the store’s expectations, a verbal job offer is made. All workers, including temps, qualify for Walmart’s new COVID-19 emergency leave, which includes two weeks pay if a site is quarantined or if a worker gets infected, up to 26 weeks of additional pay.

“They’re mostly temporary positions but we’re hoping many of them will turn into permanent,” said Wilson, adding that the company needs truck drivers and pays them up to $87,500 a year. “But even before the coronavirus outbreak, many of our stores, especially in Colorado, were hiring. And that has to do with the new services that we’re offering in stores such as grocery pickup.”

The Pikes Peak Workforce Center, which serves El Paso and Teller counties, moved its job fairs online, including the Young Adult Job Fair, going on now through March 29. At a virtual job fair, the event can last for several weeks instead of a few hours. There are private chat rooms where employers can schedule interviews with applicants.  

Its annual Spring Job Fair, which had 140 employers, is now scheduled to go virtual on April 8. That meant a lot of calling employers to check if they’re still hiring and reaching out to others who now may need the extra help, said Traci Marques, the Pikes Peak center’s executive director. 

“We’ve been inviting employers for months. And then when all of this happened, we switched it to a virtual job fair,” she said. “Now we’re just double checking with each employer to make sure and of course, some are like, ‘Oh, no, now I can’t hire anybody at all’ and others … are desperate now to hire, so we’re adding employers.”

MORE: Colorado governor issues statewide stay-at-home order just days after opting against the mandate

Keeping employees on the job

There’s also a large number of companies and industries that continue to operate pretty close to normal, other than asking most of their employees to stay home. 

The Colorado Farm Bureau on Wednesday said the agriculture industry is “Still open for business,” and suppliers are able to get food to communities thanks to temporary federal waivers on the number of hours for truckers or weight restrictions for hauling food. 

Comcast, which has thousands of employees in the state and two call centers, has most of its staff working from home. Comcast relies on staff and contractors to keep service running. Construction projects are still forging ahead to, for example, extend TV and broadband service to Eagle and Gypsum. And technicians also are dropping off self-install kits to new customers, Leslie Oliver, a Comcast spokeswoman, said.

“We’re trying to maintain the reliability of our service,” Oliver said. “Now, more than ever, illustrates the need to be connected.”

The business of Twilio, which acquired SendGrid last year, is all about digital communication, such as email and text messages. The only thing different in hiring is no in-person interviews at its downtown Denver office, said Scott Davis, who recruits sales and marketing professionals as Twilio’s Global Head of Go to Market Recruiting.

“Since we don’t have anybody on site to host them, we’ve had to redesign our process to do it all virtually. Now, we do, more or less the same process, but we’ve had to adapt it to do it over video,” Davis said.

Englehart, with the Mesa County Workforce Center, said his staff has been busier helping with layoffs than new jobs in the past week. But he said workforce centers do more than link candidates to jobs. They help with resume preparation, interviewing techniques and job searching too. 

“It seems like they’re calling for the unemployment information side and then we’re able to discuss with them what we can do for them,” Englehart said. “We’re still offering the same services we always have, it’s just through a different avenue.”

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