Corner Office Q&A: Joanie Bily

Joanie Bily is the president of RemX, which provides professional clerical staffing and jobs, as well as being chief workforce analyst at Employbridge, RemX’s parent company. With decades of experience in various roles in the employment and staffing industry, she understands the challenges facing the jobs market and what might be necessary to close the skills gap.

Here, she talks with Monster about building a corporate career as a single mom, the importance of pivoting when the economy dives, and why companies need to focus on bringing women back to the workforce.

Tell me about your career trajectory. How did you get to your current position?

I believe everything happens for a reason in life, but I never thought that I would end up in staffing or recruiting. I’d never heard of it, and it’s such a great profession and great industry to be in. But the truth is, I completely fell into the industry.

I have a bachelor’s degree in human services, and I actually thought I was going to pursue a job in social work. Long story short, I answered an ad in the paper — so it dates way back! — that said “employment counselor.” It turned out to be a recruiter position, an entry-level staffing job in the employment industry. My first job out of college was with this little company, and I really started helping other people find jobs, placing people on a temporary and permanent basis. I fell into it, but I love the fact that the work we do really matters and makes a difference in people’s lives. We’re connecting people with jobs, and we’re connecting employers with great talent. I think that’s what’s kept me in it for so long — I really feel like the work we do matters. I still love the industry and I’ve worked my way up over the last 25 years to now being a president of a business.

What has helped you the most so far in your career?

I definitely have been a driven and ambitious individual, just in general. I’m someone who is thinking about what’s next, or what’s the next thing I want to achieve. I’ve always liked the concept of the bucket list and dreaming big. And I talk to people about that all the time — goal setting and reaching for your dreams and achieving success. So I think this industry has been a good match for me because it has been a career path where I could see the ability to climb that corporate ladder. I always knew that I wanted to be a manager — so what’s the next step? How am I going to get there? It’s an industry that if you work hard and put in the time and effort, if you’re good at building relationships with both employees and customers, it really can pay off for you.

It’s also been such a great industry as a female to be in. There are so many women in the industry who have been mentors for me and have helped guide me along the way. It’s also helped me see that you can have a family and have a big career and balance it. Yes, it’s a juggle, but you can do it. It’s a nice industry to be able to move up in as a female leader.

What hurdles have you encountered along the way?

Sometimes it’s been the economy. I’ve been through some real downturns where unemployment starts to climb and employers are laying off and not hiring. But there are always skills in demand, and always industries that are doing well even in the down cycle. COVID-19 was our most recent challenge, and here I was running a business where all of a sudden our employers were shutting down operations, letting people go, and no one was working in an office. You have to assess market conditions and determine that even though opportunities and doors may be shutting over there, where can we find a window that’s open somewhere else?

During COVID-19, my business pivoted. We decided to focus on companies that needed to hire biometric screeners and essential workers, companies that needed to stay operating. We placed hundreds and hundreds of people in jobs during COVID. And we also partnered with our customers for alternative solutions. Companies had to have people work virtually who had never had a virtual workforce before. You have to have crisis management skills. Market conditions change all the time, and you need to be flexible and nimble to be able to adapt.

Another challenge, I would say, is being a female. Even though I talk about how this industry is great for females, there have been many times where I’ve shown up at a meeting and I’m the only female in the room, or maybe one of two at a table. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family of all girls, where my parents instilled a lot of confidence in us, to feel like I deserve a seat at the table or in the room as much as anyone else. I’m thankful for the way I was raised, and I really credit my parents for that.

The last challenge is that as a working mom, I’ve also been a single mom. I want people to know that you can have a great career and also be a hands-on mom. It does take balance, and it takes prioritizing and really being organized, but this industry has definitely allowed me to have the career and also be a mom who was involved in my kids’ school and extra activities.

With the expertise you’ve gained, what do you see as the difference between White Collar and Blue Collar hiring?

What’s interesting about what’s happening today is that both sides are extremely competitive. I’ve never seen an employment market as competitive in the war for talent on both the Blue Collar and White Collar side.

I think what’s happening with Blue Collar is that the jobs are changing. There are many Blue Collar jobs that are now requiring much higher-level skills. They’re working with robotics and artificial intelligence. Some of the manufacturing plants and logistics centers are some of the highest tech environments out there. If you walk onto the floor of some of the top auto makers in the country, they’re so much more technically advanced than even a few years ago. So the jobs in Blue Collar today are looking for skilled talent that have the technology skills, the digital skills, and also the cognitive skills to be successful. We’re also seeing pay rates moving up. We’ve seen big movement in pay rates for warehouse workers and manufacturing workers.

I think we’ve been talking about that for White Collar workers for some time now — the need for more people to go into STEM roles and the professional level IT jobs, finance, accounting, data analytics and data scientist roles. Those skills are only going to continue to be in high demand.

With the candidate market so tight, what do you think about the skills gap and what firms can do to win talent?

I think employers are going to need to be creative in the ways that they offer training and education. There need to be more apprenticeship programs in place. I think the skills gap is going to be here to stay — any of the reports you read talk about how we just don’t have the talent trained with the right skills needed for today and certainly for the future. I think employers are going to have to offer on-the-job training. I would think we would see more apprenticeship programs come back in the skilled fields as well as in the trades.

What do you see happening in terms of hiring trends?

This is definitely one of the most challenging labor markets we’ve ever seen. We are at an all-time high of job openings in the United States from the last jobs report that was released. And we are at all-time lows in labor participation. So it truly is a supply and demand problem. The demand is there in all industries and all skills sets from entry-level jobs all the way up through the higher-level skilled positions. There are job openings across the country, and unemployment continues to tick down every single month. We just don’t have enough people participating in the labor market.

When you look at women in particular, that’s an area we need to crack the code in. Labor participation for women over 20 is at 57%. When you compare that to men, labor participation is at 69%. So it’s still low for both females and males, but particularly with females, we need to find a way to encourage women to come back. Employers really need to think about what they can do to attract female workers. Maybe that’s offering more flexible work schedules, more virtual work opportunities, or going back to job sharing. Maybe it’s offering different training programs or learning opportunities or apprenticeships for women who might not have had the chance or opportunity. But there’s a real opportunity for us to focus on targeting females to come back into the workforce.

What surprised you about the latest jobs report, and what do you expect to see in the future?

I think the last jobs report showed us that the leisure and hospitality industry did not add any additional jobs for the month of August. I was shocked by that. That’s the industry that was hit the hardest during the pandemic, lost millions of jobs. I would question that data, I think we’ll watch for the September jobs report to see if they revise those numbers. I think we will continue to see jobs come back in leisure and hospitality. I would also expect to see continued growth in the healthcare sector and professional and business services area as well as manufacturing and construction really has not seen robust job growth, but the demand is there. Any city you visit across the country, you can see residential building and commercial building. There’s so much expansion, and it’s hard to find workers. I wonder why we’re not seeing more jobs growth, because those jobs can also pay a bit more. I would expect we’re going to see some improved job growth in those areas for the rest of the year and certainly into the first quarter of 2022.

On another topic, why are people still not participating in the labor market? I think there are a few reasons for that. We still have health and safety concerns regarding Covid. There have been some challenges with schools not being 100% open and children still having to be virtual. And then I think we did have extra unemployment benefits that just ended on September 6th. I can tell you at my business, we have seen an increase in our online applications ever since those unemployment benefits have stopped. Hopefully, with school going back, with the focus on vaccinations, and with people realizing they’re not going to get those additional unemployment benefits, we’ll see labor participation tick back up.

Learn more about fall hiring trends

This fall, there are many factors at play that could swing the staffing and recruitment outlook in one direction or the other. For a deep dive into Monster’s data and analytics, plus our latest candidate poll data, read our Fall Hiring Report.