As the overall economy continues to buzz along, the significant challenge to local businesses I hear about most is a tight labor market. Businesses are having difficulty filling positions and, the more skilled the position, the more difficult (and expensive) the effort is. This challenge is occurring across all types and sizes of businesses; and, with a sustained unemployment rate at or around 4%, this may continue as a persistent challenge for the foreseeable future.
A new study, the 2018 Employer Needs Survey, was just released by the NC Works Commission, the board that oversees the state’s workforce development system. According to the findings, while 43% of employers expected future hiring needs (certainly good news), over half said they experienced difficulty hiring new staff. There were many reasons identified but “employability” and “low number of applicants” were cited as the primary challenges. Work experience, technical skills, soft skills, and education were also often cited as reasons for hiring difficulties.
Another recent study I have seen compared all Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the US and ranked them on a variety of factors one of which included something termed “Prime Workforce”. Alamance County is a stand-alone MSA (named Burlington MSA) meaning our county is its own economic area without being attached to any other larger metro area or having any other county or counties added to us. There are 394 MSAs in the country. Our ranking on the Prime Workforce factor was 350 out of 394. (Just fyi, our overall ranking using all factors was 295 out 394 with the highest factor, Year Over Year Growth, ranked at 169).
In both studies, it seems the larger urban areas are faring better (at growing and attracting labor/talent) compared to smaller metros and rural areas. Again, no surprises here but affirmation of the issue and that it, the labor shortage, is a nationwide challenge.
Businesses are employing multiple strategies to find employees including private agencies, NC Works Career Centers, online boards and other social media. Adjustment strategies include more emphasis on training, changing wages/benefits, using temporary and contract labor, and automation.
Raising awareness of resources on the demand (business) side as well as of job/career choices on the supply (labor) side is an opportunity for workforce development agencies including the Alamance Chamber. Connecting businesses with our local/state education and training resources has long been a service we offer to our members. That is bolstered by our general support for improving education in Alamance County.
Referring back to the study citing Prime Workforce as a ranking factor, in highlighting this factor, the report says, “technology underpins a firm’s ability to be more productive and education supports a worker’s ability to perform at high levels”.