By Arthur Vidro
Senior Wire 

Worker shortage? Then make it easier to apply


January 1, 2022 | View PDF

Help Wanted signs have sprouted up all over. Without enough workers, businesses can’t stay open.

The day after Thanksgiving – the day when all chain stores start clamoring for everyone’s gift-buying dough – I stopped at the nearest dollar store for some paper towels. The store was closed. On the day after Thanksgiving.

Why? The sign on the door vaguely cited “staffing shortages.” A supervisor later explained to me a lot of workers had been out sick. Seems nowadays “staffing shortages” can mean a lot of workers are out sick but the store doesn’t want to tell the public that the workers are out sick. Which makes me wonder about the nature of the illness.

Back at the dollar store with the Help Wanted sign, I asked for a job application to take home. (I’m not looking to work there, but I wanted to understand the process.) I was refused.

“You do that online,” I was told dismissively.

So there you have it. Even in stores with Help Wanted signs practically begging for help, the supervisors won’t let you apply for a job unless you apply electronically. Which is not everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone has a home computer. Not everyone has a telephone with an internet connection. Still, a lot of people, I’m willing to wager, would fill out job applications if they could do so on paper.

Some of the stores that require you to apply online have, to their credit, set aside a computer in the store to make it easier for the applicant. But most stores haven’t.

Job applications online vary from user-friendly to impossible.

If you want to work for the post office, you have to apply online. The website warns you the process will likely take several hours, so don’t begin until you have time to complete it.

No wonder they’re not getting enough applications. One recently retired postal worker confided, “If I had to apply by computer today, I wouldn’t. It’s too difficult.”

Many applications ask for way too much information. One local supermarket requires all applicants to go online, where the application requires a Social Security number. If you leave

that line blank, you can’t apply.

Hey, if you want my Social Security number, first make me a job offer.

I advise not divulging your Social Security number on an application that might eventually be hacked. Anyone I know who wants to work in a supermarket, I steer them to a different supermarket where you are still allowed – heck, required – to apply on paper. It’s a very simple two-page form. You don’t even have to ask for the form. They’re kept on a table by the exit.

One local bank, when I applied in person on their computer, required not just the name of my college and the year of graduation, but the school’s address (with ZIP code) and phone number. More than 35 years after graduating, I didn’t know the phone number. Without that number, the application stalled. One was not allowed to leave the line blank, and I wasn’t going to put down a false answer.

If the application were on paper, I would have written “Will find out for you by the time you interview me.” But that’s not how things are done in the computer age. The computer dictates how you must answer. If you waver from the expected norm, you are rejected.

I’m also stumped by applications asking for phone numbers of all my former supervisors. Most places I worked have either gone out of business or moved to a different location without telling me, and my former supervisors are probably long since retired or deceased. The computers don’t care. They routinely reject my applications for not including all the information demanded.

Would these prospective employers have telephoned my school or former supervisors if I

provided the numbers? I doubt it. It’s just greed for information.

It would be interesting to see if mom-and-pop shops, which tend to be more receptive to non-electronic applications, are suffering the same staffing shortages as big chain corporations.

Many employees are quitting, often without having something else lined up. They are tired. They have been put upon in the pandemic. They have been stressed by unappreciative customers, frequently changing hours, and low pay for robot-like duties.

Some businesses are raising wages to attract workers. But look carefully. The local McDonald’s has a sign out front trumpeting they are hiring and paying “up to $14 an hour.” But you have to sidle up close to read the “up to” section. From a distance, it looks like “$14 an hour.” But it isn’t.

Hey, all you stores that are suffering, we customers and workers have some compassion. But if you want to attract or retain workers for the long term, then try something bold – such as

providing health insurance or a profit-sharing plan. Then you’ll receive tons of job applications.

If that’s too rich for your budget, then at least allow for paper applications

Arthur Vidro worked for a decade in the stock industry. Before and after, he wrote newspaper articles and edited a few books. He has served as treasurer of theater and library organizations.

He’s been cautious with money ever since a dollar was worth a dollar.


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