The national unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, but layoffs are making headlines in Nevada.
Idled Strip casino executives are banding together online to share job leads, even as the strong economy creates opportunities for felons and other marginalized workers.
Into this confounding environment come 20,000 HR professionals, members of the Society for Human Resources Management. They meet in Las Vegas starting this weekend to discuss hiring trends and ways to improve workplace culture.
They arrive in a community that recently saw nearly 900 MGM Resorts International executives let go as part of a cost-cutting move. Rival Caesars Entertainment is reported to be in merger talks with Eldorado Resorts, with workforce reductions likely on the table.
Until she was let go this spring, Mali Catello was director of learning delivery, which conducted leadership development and new hiring orientation, for MGM Resorts International.
Her 14-person department was reduced to five as part of the MGM2020 corporate restructuring effort.
Since then she has been an online advocate and organizer for her fellow laid-off casino workers, sharing job tips and supporting each other. Catello created the #254strong hashtag on LinkedIn, with the number reflecting how many were let go by MGM in an early round of layoffs.
“I created the #254strong hashtag a few hours after being laid off to reach out to my friends and colleagues I knew could be going through the same process I had gone through earlier that morning,” Catello said. “I also wanted to define a common denominator aside from the ‘MGM2020’ or ‘laid-off’ labels.
Catello told KNPR's State of Nevada that she has been overwhelmed with support from people around the country. She has received messages from former colleagues and from business leaders outside of Nevada supporting her efforts.
Now, she is looking for a new job but she is being cautious about what she wants to do.
"I am just trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to do," she said, "I'm thinking strategically about what I really want to do that will really be aligned with my personal sense of mission."
Catello said she would be willing to retrain for another position or find a way to translate her current skills to another career.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the national president of the Society of Human Resources Management, said retraining is vital for so many people looking for jobs in today's workforce.
"The jobs have changed," he said, "So, if you have been prepared to do a job, prepared to do it very well, and that job doesn't exist anymore then that's a real bad situation for you."
Taylor said it is important for workers to upskill and reskill. He said jobs like welding, carpentry and construction are highly skilled, high paying but not necessarily higher education jobs that people could transition into.
He also said STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - jobs are in high demand. There are opportunities for workers, even older workers, to be educated in computer programming and coding.
Besides rethinking the skills they have, Taylor believes workers need to rethink their workplace goals for the future.
"In Vegas, they are laying off managers," he said, "The fact of the matter is thinking of yourself as progressing to a management role is really a 20th Century way of thinking about career."
He said that "up" is not always the best way but instead people should look at improving their skills to find a job that pays better than a management position.
Patrice Ross is the head of the Las Vegas HR department for AECOM, a global engineering firm. She agreed that it is difficult to find the right workers with the right skill sets.
"Even though there are a lot of candidates available, finding the right mix of skills is still a challenge," she said.
Ross knows the challenge first hand. She said her company interviewed 15 people before it found the right person to expand her department.
A way to expand the pool of candidates for a job could be by expanding opportunities for former prisoners. Taylor notes there are about 7.5 million jobs available in the country and about 6 million people who are considered unemployed.
He said with a tight job market and a hot economy giving even half of the estimated 700,000 people re-entering the workforce from prison a chance at employment would make a dent in the labor shortage. His organization supports Getting Talent Back to Work, which encourages employers to consider hiring people with prison records.
Camille Vega is the director of the Re-Entry Center at Truckee Meadows Community College. She is based in Northern Nevada but she talked to State of Nevada from Washington, D.C., where a conference is being held to talk about getting employers to hire people with criminal backgrounds.
"The majority of the crimes that people commit are crimes of desperation," she said, "The biggest recidivism population are those individuals that have parole violations. The reason being is when somebody gets out of prison their first priority is to get a job. If you remove that barrier to employment, an individual's chance at success is going to be immensely greater than not having that employment."
Besides cutting down on recidivism and improving the pool of job candidates, Taylor said getting people with a criminal background a good job makes communities safer. Without a chance to make an honest living, former prisoners will more easily go back to committing crimes to support themselves and their families.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., national president, Society of Human Resources Management; Patrice Ross, head of Las Vegas HR department, AECOM; Camille Vega, director, Re-Entry Center at Truckee Meadows Community College; Mali Catello, advocate for laid-off MGM Resorts employees