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Primo's Restaurant on Clinton street in Johnstown is looking for a full time cook on Monday, April 19, 2021.

Robots could one day deliver meals to patients and clean floors at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.

Such automation is under consideration as a long-term solution for the hospital’s current shortage of job applicants, Conemaugh Memorial’s CEO Bill Caldwell said.

“That technology exists,” Caldwell said, “and our leadership is evaluating it.”

Local companies across the board in Johnstown are hiring, but job-seekers are light, Johnstown Area Regional Industries Workforce Development Director Debra Balog said.

“We are not sure why, to be very honest,” Balog said.

Stimulus checks and unemployment benefits with $300 extra during the COVID-19 pandemic may have been disincentives to work, she said, but she said she wasn’t certain about that.

“We are not really understanding if there is anything else keeping seekers away,” she said.

Soft drinks to health care

A survey of 34 companies in JARI’s business partnership shows 280 job openings, with an additional 230 from Conemaugh Health System.

Many of those jobs offer wages between $13 and $16 an hour or more, she said.

The PepsiCo. plant in Johnstown is hiring to meet a surge in business, driven by restaurants and bars reopening after a year of pandemic-related hardship, human resources director Tim Mallon said.

Pepsi is looking to hire 15 CDL drivers, warehouse personnel and machine operators in Johnstown to make and deliver its products.

“The difficulty is getting people to even apply,” Mallon said, “and once we have them apply, it’s having them qualified to run the equipment and deliver the product. We’ve been challenged like everyone else.”

At Conemaugh, the shortage of housekeeping employees isn’t dire for now, but it means offices and spaces that don’t serve patients won’t be cleaned regularly, Caldwell said.

There are 80 nonclinical jobs open across Conemaugh Health System’s campuses in Cambria and Somerset counties. That’s in addition to the 150 clinical positions open, including nurses, physical therapists and lab technicians.

Caldwell said many of the job opportunities accompany expansion and reopening of previously closed hospital programs, including geriatric and adolescent psychology units.

To get applicants, Caldwell said the hospital is preparing to offer walk-in interviews without appointments.

“Sometimes applying for a job can be daunting,” he said. “We want to make it as easy as possible, given some challenges folks have.”

‘How people view work’

The shortage of job applicants is partly due to pressure the pandemic has put on people, especially single parents at home with children learning virtually, Caldwell said.

But aside from the pandemic, there are changing work-force demographics at play.

“This isn’t unique to health care – as baby boomers retire at an increasing rate, that will put additional pressure on the workforce,” Caldwell said. “What we are seeing is there are generational differences in how people view work. It’s not good or bad, just different.”

There are fewer people today than in the past who are willing to take jobs that entail overtime, he said.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily bad,” he said.

“In retrospect, my generation maybe had it wrong on that end. But it does create challenges for the work environment, especially in a hospital that runs 24/7.”

He also noted career options, including information technology, which didn’t exist 30 years ago, could be spreading the pool of job applicants thin.

Cybersecurity, IT management and supply chain intelligence are specialties of Sourceree, an Ebensburg-based company.

With its recent acquisition of Precision Business Solutions, Sourceree doubled its employees to 52 and is preparing to hire several new employees, said Sourceree director of culture Jess Murphy.

Murphy is posting jobs on Indeed.com and hoping for local talent, but she’s heard of the difficulty other employers have been experiencing.

“Some of these will be able to be performed remotely,” she said. “If we can’t fill them in Cambria County, then we will look elsewhere. But we always want to stay within the region.”

‘There are positions here’

With clients in the Washington, D.C., metro area and Pittsburgh, the company has employees there, as well as in Johnstown and Ebensburg, she said.

“I don’t think people realize the kind of work that can be done in this area,” she said. “People may be looking outward from Cambria County for jobs, but there are positions here – there are a ton. We don’t want people to leave.”

Jeld-Wen, a door manufacturing company based in North Carolina, has a growing facility in Sidman.

The site has 100 employees and currently has 50 job openings, Alexis Freoni, human resource generalist said.

“It’s been a roller coaster trying to fill those jobs,” she said. “We are trying every avenue possible.” 

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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