Job seekers

Jobs in Asheville and Hendersonville far outnumber job seekers

ASHEVILLE — The COVID-19 pandemic may be on the wane, but local employers are still struggling to fill vacancies in a tight job market exacerbated by the rising cost of living.

The bottom line, said Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, is that if the 6,600 unemployed workers in the Asheville area were to find jobs, there would still be thousands of openings.

“Employers have bounced back,” he said. “Those jobs have come back. The thing is, they can’t do those jobs.”

At Brandy’s on Main in downtown Hendersonville, front desk manager Sandy Gates says the fine-dining restaurant has struggled to fill vacancies for a year and has done everything it can , including salary increases, to entice people to join the team.

“We kind of did everything we could do,” she said. “We run our ads in every avenue we can get them, and we just don’t get people through the door.”

The restaurant, which has about a dozen employees, had to close on Wednesday last August due to staffing issues, according to Gates, which are shared across the board. The restaurant currently has four positions open, mostly for positions in the kitchen, where it has struggled for a year to get help.

“In Hendersonville…you can walk down Main Street right now, and I don’t care if it’s retail, restaurant, antique store, whatever, everyone has signs in the windows saying that he’s hiring,” she said. . “Everybody.”

Many employers, Ramsey said, have 50 to 100 vacancies, offering $20 to $22 an hour and more to new hires without specialized training or experience.

According to the National Employment Agency NCWorksthe Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area of ​​Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Haywood counties has 13,098 job openings, though Ramsey said that number is often underreported and the true figure is closer to 20,000.

Ramsey shared a presentation from Jeff DeBellis, director of economic and policy analysis for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, detailing the local labor market at the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board meeting on March 22.

Continued:Local labor market: Over 24,000 job openings in Asheville area, labor shortage

He notes that at 3.1% in January, the mountain region’s unemployment rate is at pre-pandemic levels, but there are still far more job openings than people to fill them.

That January figure is an increase from December but still the second-lowest in the state, Ramsey said, noting Buncombe as one of the counties with the lowest unemployment rate in North Carolina.

In January, NCWorks also lists Henderson and Buncombe County with an unemployment rate of 3.1%, with Madison and Haywood at 3.3%. The statewide unemployment rate is 3.8%.

According to DeBellis’ presentation, the January 2022 total of 6,669 unemployed workers in the Mountain Region represents an increase of 63 from January 2020, but there are more than 6,000 fewer people in the total labor force.

Jason Fyle with a group in a lab during one of his heating, ventilation and air conditioning classes at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College on September 3, 2020. Fryle who currently works as a bartender is undergoing training to change careers part due to changes that have taken place due to COVID-19.

This leads to the lowest number of job seekers – 12,795 – since 2007, while the number of vacancies is just off a record high.

In Henderson County, 3.1% unemployment represents about 1,649 people looking for work, said Brittany Brady, president and CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development and the software they use to calculate unemployment lists the metropolitan statistical area a little higher, at 7,171 unemployed. .

The breakdown of unemployment by industry shows progress in Henderson County, Brady showed, including in industries related to food preparation and service, where the unemployment rate fell to 9.4% from 15.1 % in September 2021.

“There seems to be a lot of opportunity and things are clearing up in that regard,” she said. “I think the catch is that so many organizations could probably take more.”

At Brandy’s on Main, Gates said potential new hires apply but don’t come for interviews. They receive applications from out of state that she says were filed simply to meet unemployment requirements.

She said the restaurant had done all it could to make the positions more attractive, offering $15 to $18 an hour for line cooks, depending on experience, and for pantry positions, price increases. salary from 9 to 10 dollars to 10 to 15 dollars depending on experience.

“We still don’t get any candidates,” Gates said.

The hires they made didn’t work out, she said, and in her three years at the restaurant and 40 years in the industry, Gates said she’s never seen so difficult to hire people.

Family members of current staff come to help when they can, Gates said, including the husband of a waiter who comes to help with the restaurant’s dishwasher.

The workforce is aging and more baby boomers are retiring. Remote work is gaining acceptance, leaving local employers competing with companies across the country, Ramsey said.

Continued:Buncombe eyes $13.2 million in new hires; manager says service, morale will improve

He noted a recent Washington Post article showing that the No. 2 reason workers have not returned to the workplace is that they are caring for an older family member.

“If I knew what the secret sauce was to bringing more people back into our workforce, I would,” Ramsey said.

The Mountain Area Workforce Development Board is trying to ease some of that pressure by working to expand early childhood education slots in 11 counties, establish recovery programs to help with substance abuse disorders and people exiting the criminal justice system and to focus on the marginalized. populations.

“Barring a global, national and unforeseen economic contraction, I think the labor market will continue to be tight,” Ramsey said.

Georgeanna Logan shares information about her employer, Liberty Corner Enterprises, with Anthony Anderson during the WNC Career Expo at Rabbit Rabbit in downtown Asheville on April 15, 2021.

There is, however, a big debate, he said, about the impact of raising Federal Reserve interest rates, and whether it will cool inflation or promote monetary stability, and to what extent. extent it can be a drag on the economy or reduce job creation.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Right now, we don’t see much weakness in any sector.”

Ramsey said he heard a hospitality and tourism employer tell him the company had record months with 30% fewer employers, despite its wage costs being 30% higher than before levels the pandemic.

It’s also happening in other industries, he said, where employers are looking to be more efficient and do more with less.

In Henderson County, Brady said employers are discussing how to help employees overcome these barriers to employment, using ride-sharing services to ensure employees can get to work during a some time or helping them secure a short-term rental for accommodation.

One of the main ways manufacturers, who may not necessarily offer remote working, are more flexible, she says, is by changing schedules and adding flexibility to employees when they work.

Continued:Opinion: Closing our local labor gap will take a collaborative effort

“While working from home is attractive, most people want flexibility,” Brady said.

For example, she said, if a worker has a sick child and needs to pick him up from school, a multi-skilled worker could fill in while he does. If an employee’s car breaks down, the company might have a system to help them get to work.

“On the employers’ side, there are just more jobs than people, and they’re scrambling for workers, raising wages, being flexible, doing whatever they can,” Ramsey said.

And in that sense, he’s telling employers that their top priority should be retaining their current employees.

“Every employer wants to hire your employees,” he said.

But it’s also not a big scene for job seekers.

Recent WNC Career Expos saw 220 to 230 job seekers in attendance, and in that environment it’s a success, Ramsey said, while pre-pandemic expos would have seen more than 1,000.

The WNC Career Expo was held at Rabbit Rabbit in downtown Asheville on April 15, 2021.

The two shows a year, even with a 3% unemployment rate, would see strong attendance before the pandemic, he said, and recent job fairs at $17 and $18 an hour n ‘still not increase the numbers that the exhibitions made before March 2020.

“I would like to know what salary rate, what kind of job would make people show up,” he said.

The cost of living, especially rent, is on the rise. Rents in Asheville jumped 25% in 2021making it the most expensive city in the state to rent and leaving the median two-bedroom rent at $1,771.

Just Economics lists the Buncombe County living wage rate at $17.70 per hour with or without health benefits, up from $17.30 in 2021.

For rural western North Carolina counties, it’s $13 an hour.

Continued: New living wage: $17.70 for Asheville, Buncombe County, according to Just Economics

Continued:Asheville ranks 4th among cities where job seekers are ‘now flocking’

According to DeBellis’ presentation, the competitive job market is pushing wages up from an average real weekly wage of $917 in 2020 to $947 in 2021, with the biggest increases directed to the lowest-paying jobs.

Some workers also lack transportation, and the costs of used cars are also rising, Ramsey said, making it harder to get a low-cost vehicle.

Another big concern is childcare, an area where fewer people are working, leaving fewer places for children. He said the money was there to support early childhood education, but these organizations also compete to recruit and retain workers with other industries like restaurants and health care.

“It’s really essential for many families to get back to work, and that’s the case even for a high-income family,” Ramsey said. “No matter how much money you have, those slot machines just aren’t out there.”

Derek Lacey covers environment, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at [email protected] or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.