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Signs are up for hiring fairs, help wanted ads are listed in the paper and yet there is a disconnect between the number of people who are out of work and cannot find a job, and jobs laying vacant.

“The vast majority of the businesses we have talked to are looking to hire additional workers,” reported Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.

Broadly speaking, the nation is getting back to work. The national jobs report was released Friday, it painted a picture of a rebounding economy after the White House had been giving signals a negative report may be forthcoming.

In a surprise to some analysts, the economy exceeding expectations adding 467,000 new jobs in January, and the unemployment rate hovered at 4%. Employment numbers were revised upward for the months of November and December as well.

December, initially reported as a gain of 199,000 new jobs, went up to 510,000. November surged to 647,000 from the previously under reported 249,000. For those two months, the accounts were revised up by 709,000.

North Carolina’s labor market also saw notable gains in December, with employment and job openings growing robustly and labor force participation ticking up slightly. The state’s unemployment rate declined to 3.7%, approaching pre-pandemic levels.

“Based on information shared with us from companies that we have met with and talked to, a lot of them have come back to pre-pandemic employment levels,” Tucker offered. “Many are also attempting to hire additional workers.”

In December, the last available data, the unemployment rate for Surry County was 2.8%, Stokes 2.7%, Yadkin 2.7%, Wilkes 3.0%, and Alleghany 3.2%. These are all below the state unemployment average of 3.7%; and, by comparison Patrick County, Virginia sits at 3% and Carroll County 2.6%

Fewer candidates, more choices

Among the unemployed, the number of job leavers nationally increased to 952,000 in January, following a decrease in the wave of labor seen exiting their jobs in the prior month.

Retail and food service were among the fields with the greatest labor exit. For servers scraping by on tips and a $2.13/hourly base rate, waiting around on reopening allowed for some to go back to school or try a new field of work altogether. When restaurants and bars reopened, the workers did not return in nearly the numbers in which they left.

Fewer workers and more openings mean that the statewide labor market is getting tighter, leading to increased hiring challenges for employers. The declining labor pool has caused an upward shift in pay rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising 1% in the final quarter of 2021 alone.

Exiting the labor pool are some parents thrust into being teachers overnight who found their time was better spent remaining at home. A recent focus on greater parental oversight of education and school boards has given credence to those who see the potential benefits of homeschooling. Seeing it as the best was to guide their children’s learning, a new crop of stay-at-home teachers has emerged.

Another trend continuing across the country is the move to telecommuting or working from home. Once the stuff only of fables only a select few could do, working from home is becoming a new normal. Friday’s job data report listed the percentage of Americans who were working from home rose to more than 15%, up from 11% in December.

These transitions have led to vacancies “across all industry sectors, manufacturing, retail, health care and the service industry,” Tucker said of local job openings. “Currently there are over 1,000 jobs available in Surry County according to”

Who wants to work?

There are some though giving up on the job search and exiting the labor market by ceasing their job search. There are 1.5 million Americans who wanted and were available for work, who had looked for a job in the previous year, but not the month preceding their survey. Also, the count of discouraged workers sat at 408,000, these are ones who believed that no jobs were available for them.

As frequent an uttered complaint as empty shelves at the store, is that there is no staff to help. Some variation of “no one wants to work anymore” is the common refrain among the frustrated.

“This current labor challenge is not Surry County’s alone,” Tucker said, “it is happening all over the US.” Plenty of people around Surry County do want to work however, and there are jobs to be had right now.

The NC Department of Commerce laid out a regional map of employment trends including the biggest employers, and greatest needs. Across the state one of the largest employment needs in every county is that of their school system.

In Surry County the employers listed with the highest number of vacancies are Hugh Chatham Memorial (140), Northern Regional Hospital (71), PruittHealth (41) and Asplundh (30).

Regionally, Novant Health, Hanesbrands, Wake Forest University, McDonalds, Food Lion and Anthem Inc. are listed as having the greatest need for new employees. Novant needs more than 800 workers, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools have 400 openings, and area Food Lions are seeking over 250 workers right now.

NCWorks goes into greater detail, outlining what fields are in most demand and healthcare is at the top of the list. Nurses of all types are in demand: RNs, LPNs and Nursing Assistant are being sought far and wide.

Workforce participation levels remain lower than two years ago, some workers took the pandemic as a time to reassess, and perhaps revalue the relationship with their employer. With a work force returning to pre-COVID unemployment levels, the rate of those returning to work has not matched the need employers have.

It is an advantageous time to be in the job market due to rising wages, the wide range of jobs in differing fields, and employers who are willing to look for candidates with a variety of experience levels. With a gap between labor supply and demand, more help wanted ads will follow.

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