Pictured is Dakota Bread Co. co-founder Bassie Shemtov. Employers and job seekers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways.

Pictured is Dakota Bread Co. co-founder Bassie Shemtov. Employers and job seekers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Employers, job seekers feel the sting of the pandemic

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published November 7, 2020

METRO DETROIT — In a year that has challenged so many in profound ways, both employers and job seekers are among those who have had their lives altered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bassie Shemtov is the co-founder of the Dakota Bread Co., Soul Café, Soul Studio and the nonprofit Friendship Circle, all of which are located in West Bloomfield.

She estimates having between 50 and 60 employees.

Like others, Shemtov has felt the impact of COVID-19.

“It was treading the waters in the beginning,” she said. “Making decisions constantly, trying to support our staff, and yet making sure we could handle what we had. … We were doing it together.”

Shemtov said now the number of résumés coming in has been “nothing more than before COVID.”

“A few months ago, I think it was lower, the interest, but right now, I feel like it’s climbing back to being pretty much the same,” she said.

From Shemtov’s perspective, the job market is “about the same” as around this time last year.

For all the struggles some industries have gone through during the pandemic, the grocery store industry is one that has fared well.

Melanie Hyatt works in human resources for Plum Market, which has multiple locations, including in West Bloomfield.

During the early stages of the pandemic, sales were so strong that it led to challenges that Hyatt attributes to people being “scared” because of COVID-19, as well as the extra $600 per week many were getting in unemployment benefits.

“Our greatest struggle was bringing on new people,” she said. “Sales were actually going up. We had these new things that we started, like the sanitation team. … We actually needed more people, and that is what was difficult, is that we couldn’t get more people to come onto the teams. … There was a lot (of) people that weren’t looking for jobs.”

Hyatt said, “We’re still having those challenges of people wanting to work.”

One person who has been on a job search during the pandemic is Detroit resident Melanie Barnett.

She majored in English with a minor in public relations at Wayne State University, graduating in 2019.

Barnett was looking for a job in marketing and public relations, and/or writing.

Before eventually landing a job at the Friendship Circle in June to help with public relations and writing duties, her search wasn’t going well.

“The job search was very difficult during the pandemic,” Barnett said. “I was applying for jobs before the pandemic hit and after. I saw the drastic decrease in jobs being posted.”

The status of the job market can vary drastically, depending on the industry.

One of the roles of JVS Human Services in Southfield is to help those seeking jobs find employment.

Paul Blatt is JVS’s president and chief executive officer, which is a role he has held since March of this year, after previously working in other capacities since beginning with JVS in 2008.

“We’re not seeing anything that’s consistent,” Blatt said. “There are some industries that are hurting very badly right now — hospitality, restaurants, movie theaters and theater in general. … The people that worked in those industries are significantly impacted. There are other industries that are booming — online anything, there’s significant demand.”

Blatt assessed how different things are now compared to around this same time last year.

“People that were looking for work were able to find lots of opportunities,” he said. “Employers were clamoring for staff. Employers were becoming more open-minded to creating a better, diverse workforce a year ago. Right now, that feels very different.”

The availability of both current and potential employees has been altered by another effect of the pandemic.

“If you’re a primary caregiver, and child care or schools aren’t open, then you have to make a decision on whether you are going to care for your children or you’re going to earn income to take care of your children differently,” Blatt said. “I think that is, without question, impacting people. I don’t know if it’s fair to deem it as availability. I think it’s more of a reality; they just don’t have the resources to be able to go to work. I would say the same would hold true for people living and caring for older adults, as well.”

Darnell Mitchell is the owner of Mitchell & Associates Inc., which is an employment agency based in West Bloomfield.

He has been the owner for more than 25 years.

Mitchell said his “phone didn’t ring from December until June,” which he attributes a “hundred percent” to the pandemic.

Mitchell & Associates helps recruit and place engineers in the automotive industry.

Despite saying that companies are starting to hire again, Mitchell discussed a potential barrier to employment.

“Companies, they’re not on-site,” he said. “I think you’ll see a lot more job openings once they get back in their buildings.”

From Mitchell’s perspective, not being on-site can affect things because “you don’t have the true number of job openings and people that they’re looking for.”

Mitchell thinks people are “scared of the unknown” and that they’re going to have to “work much longer for retirement.”

On the brighter side of things, Mitchell said, “the dollars aren’t dropping. It’s based off your experience.”

Shirley Viviano is a job developer/placement specialist for JVS Human Services, where she has been employed for more than two decades.

Despite her typical role of helping find employment for others, from April until around the first of July, it was Viviano who was without work, as nearly her whole department was laid off.

Since returning, she has mostly worked from home.

Despite her preference to go back to the JVS building to work, Viviano, who resides in Clinton Township, understands the situation.

“They’re trying to keep everybody safe, so it’s not a big thing to me,” she said.

Shemtov said her role with the Friendship Circle has helped her identify what she is looking for in a potential employee.

“We have learned that our No. 1 priority is that they share the values of Friendship Circle,” she said. “As large as Friendship Circle has become, the importance of sharing the same values, being a family, and on the same page, is crucial. After that, we (want to) match up the personality type to what the position is. … If we’re not sharing the same mission, that does not work out.”

According to a release, Friendship Circle’s goal is to “provide every individual with special needs the support, friendship and inclusion they deserve.”

Mitchell shared some of his advice for job seekers.

“Get up every day, first thing in the morning,” he said. “Work it just like it’s a job. … You got (to) grind every day.”