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Head hunting: Local staffing agencies, jobs market look to rebound after months of pandemic-induced stress

Head hunting: Local staffing agencies, jobs market look to rebound after months of pandemic-induced stress


About seven months ago, expectations for ProRecruiters were through the roof.

The Tulsa staffing agency’s first quarter was the strongest in CEO Carey Dunkin Baker’s 13 years in the business.

“All signs pointed to 2020 just being a rockin’ year,” she said.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic dug in, crushing the economy and sending companies and their workers into a cocoon of uncertainty. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate soared from 2.9% in March to 14.7% in April.

The open jobs at ProRecruiters went from 45 to 10, Baker said.

“All those companies that had those direct hires said one, we can’t do interviews because we’re shut down,” she said. “Two, we don’t know what’s going on and we’re going to put everything on hold. And three, we had candidates that, quite frankly, didn’t want to go to an interview. Everybody got so scared. Everything was so unknown.”

The state unemployment rate has since been cut in half, but the local jobs market still is trying to regain its footing, professional staffing experts in Tulsa said.

ProRecruiters focuses on finding contract work, temporary positions and direct placement for primarily white-collar positions, including those in accounting, administration, the executive level, human resources and sales.

“It wasn’t like a light switch,” Baker said of midsummer signs of life. “But we have seen an increased demand in temporary labor. That’s usually an indicator that the permanent jobs will follow suit.

“July and August continued that way. But things are not back to where they were.”

Lynn Flinn is senior vice president of The Rowland Group, a staffing agency with offices in Tulsa and Houston.

“It’s been a little bit crazy, as you might expect,” she said of placement industry since the onset of the pandemic. “At first, employers were just really trying to wrap their brains around what they needed to do because things were going so fast at the beginning that nobody could get a handle on what to do.

“Some were trying to decide, `Do we keep our offices open?’ They started to figure out ways to work remotely. Then, that’s when they realized, ‘wait a minute. We can make this work.’”

A recent poll by Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, showed that 48% of employees likely will work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic.

The same report indicated that 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.

“We’ve seen that play out in the Tulsa and Houston markets where we are,” Flinn said. “People are saying we need somebody to fill these positions, but we’re not ready to hire full-time.

The Rowland Group finds entry level to professional jobs primarily in the areas of accounting, IT, engineering and administration. Those positions encompass a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, banking, health care, oil and gas and construction.

The job market is healthy, Flinn said, in areas such as customer service for construction-related industries and health care. Other in-demand fields include accounting, IT development, systems analysis and mobile applications, she said.

“Specifically, a lot of people need data analysis because they are trying to check their profitability really closely now to figure out what’s making me money and what’s not making me money,” Flinn said. “Also, CPAs (certified public accountants) have been ave been super busy with all the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) processing.”

Baker mirrored much of that sentiment, adding that some blue-collar work also appears to be picking up.

“While we do not fill jobs in the manufacturing space, I have connections who do,” she said. “Those front-line workers and those manufacturing type individuals, they are rocking. That’s usually another sign that the other jobs will follow suit.”

The state’s economic recovery from COVID-19 continues to improve. As of Aug. 29, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission had reported 10 consecutive weeks of fewer Oklahomans filing for benefits.

“The way it usually works in our industry is that once the door starts to open, it just goes crazy after that,” Flinn said. “Following a downturn, it’s a huge influx of craziness.

“Everybody going to realize at the same time that they are understaffed. That’s why so many employers are trying to find what is the right size.”

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Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395

Twitter: @RhettMorganTW

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