Despite the graduation of thousands of high school and college students, Onslow’s labor market doesn’t appear to be looking up.
Jacksonville-Onslow Economic Development Executive Director Mark Sutherland said from what he’s hearing, the labor market is no better than it was in early spring.
“I’m not hearing that it’s worse, but they have the same facial expressions, same phraseology and the same issues, and that is, they can’t get labor in the quantities they need it,” Sutherland said.
Previous coverage: While Onslow unemployment rate lowers to 4%, employers still struggle finding help
He said one of the biggest issues he’s heard comprehensively from everyone in the community is employees are being poached by other higher paying local governments.
According to NCWorks, the current unemployment rate in Onslow County is 3.8%, which is barely down from early April’s 4%. However, there has been a slight increase in job opening, with a decrease in the number of candidates per job.
The top five Onslow employers looking for employees are Onslow County Schools with 403 opening, Onslow Memorial Hospital with 68, Food Lion (45), The Arora Group, Inc. (38) and LHC Group, Inc. (28), the latter two a healthcare services firm and construction.
“There are a lot of jobs available, there are many across many different industries, there are employers that are willing to train, there’s jobs that require specialized experience and there’s just, there are definitely job seekers, I can tell you that, because we see people coming in our doors every single day,” said NCWorks Career Manager Lindsay Gress.
Jacksonville Mall marketing and administrative coordinator Kilikena Jordan said with the ongoing leasing at the mall, which is adding to retail selections and experiences for guests, there is a continued variety of employment opportunities.
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Jordan said full and part-time positions are available from several retailers including Bath & Body Works and Yobre’Z (opening on the 15th), an ice cream shop.
“In addition, our Security Department, Allied Universal, and Maintenance/Housekeeping Department,” Jordan said. “Service Management Systems also has a variety of positions available as well. We always recommend that if you are interested in working at any store or restaurant, visit the store and speak to a manager about the employment opportunities available.”
Sutherland said he also heard that the General Assembly is allowing paramedics to do many things that RNs do, in order to help alleviate the pervasive nursing shortage across the state. He added the county is currently short 77 paramedics.
Can graduates fill the void?
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, 2.8 million people have left the workforce since February of 2020, and despite the summer season, Sutherland said May and June have not moved the needle.
With the baby boomer generation’s workforce retiring, and many retiring early during the pandemic, shouldn’t high school and college graduates be filling that void? Maybe not.
“I know from being on the Workforce Advisory Board over at Onslow County Schools, that they have 2,500 seniors graduating,” Sutherland said. “You take out the 50% that are going off to school, people going off to the military, and the people that are retiring this year, and early retirements, that’s another thing. Million and a half people my age left the workforce early. ”
He said those one and a half million people need to be backfilled by graduates, but he’s not so sure the graduates are keeping pace with the exiting workforce. Sutherland said they always knew the baby boom was going to fall off the deep end, and now there’s not near as many millennials to replace them.
UNCW Associate Professor of Economics & Regional Economist Mouhcine Guettabi said a little more than 2,700 students graduated from UNCW, but he doesn’t have data on how many will stay in the region, go to graduate school, or move.
Sutherland also highlighted the massive gig — otherwise known as short-term or freelance — economy, stating there are now 55 million Americans working in a gig.
“So, if you think somebody’s not working because their car’s in the driveway, they’re in there making more money in their gig than they were making working at one of our local businesses here,” Sutherland said.
With all the changes, will Onslow ever look like it did before 2020?
“There is no going back to what it was pre-COVID in terms of what we called the economy or the workforce,” Sutherland said. “It is what it is, and I hate to use a stupid phrase like that, but it’s just not the same, it’s never going to be the same. Companies had to do some pretty herculean things to get robots to do what the humans couldn’t ‘t do because of COVID to bring stuff back from offshore that’s never going back offshore again.”
Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org