The Asheville area is finally back to pre-pandemic-level employment, yet employers are still struggling to fill roles as more job openings exist than there are people to fill them.
There are 228 more workers in the labor force now compared to before the pandemic, according to the latest labor market update from the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board. Asheville’s unemployment is also making strides, having fallen to the lowest unemployment rate in North Carolina at 2.8% for April 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the gap between the number of job openings and the number of unemployed individuals has not narrowed, according to Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.
“If anything, the gap has widened,” Ramsey said.
As of June 13, the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Haywood counties has 11,836 job openings advertised online and 9,069 potential candidates in the workforce system, according to state employment agency NCWorks. However, Ramsey says there are actually more job openings and fewer unemployed individuals than these numbers show.
“The actual number of job openings is much higher since many job openings are not posted on NCWorks.gov,” Ramsey said. “We probably have anywhere from 2 to 4 job openings per unemployed individual. Clearly, there is more demand for talent/workers than there are people searching for a job.”
Ramsey said businesses are doing “everything under the sun” to entice workers. Wages have gone up, but “beyond that, employers are trying to be more creative.”
Around Asheville, Hendersonville:Job openings still far outnumber job seekers
Vince Charbonneau, a manager at Twisted Laurel in downtown Asheville, said he has increased wages “like everybody else,” started closing an hour earlier and is exploring different benefits offer, such as health insurance. Twisted Laurel, even partnered with the hair salon next door, so its employees get a discount on haircuts, and in return, the stylists receive gift cards to eat at the restaurant.
“Any little thing we can do to set ourselves apart from everybody else trying to do the same thing,” Charbonneau said. He also notes: “We’ve had a labor shortage in this town well before quarantine and COVID. It’s not abnormal. It’s just a lot bigger of a problem now.”
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The worker shortage is likely to continue, at least “until the economy enters another part of the economic cycle,” Ramsey said. “We could see a significant slowdown and most likely we would still have more job openings than available workers since the imbalance is so great.”
Why the gap?
“Our region has a tighter labor market than the national average and so it is more difficult for employers here compared to many other places,” Ramsey said. “However, it is a challenge almost everywhere. … As the Federal Reserve increases interest rates and reduces the money supply many are predicting a slowdown and that’s why financial markets have been on a downward spiral lately.”
On top of the tight labor market, barriers to employment that existed before the pandemic are still having an effect. Ramsey points to the little-to-no child care slots available for parents and the lack of adequate transportation. Additionally, recruiting workers to move to the region is a challenge as the cost of housing is unaffordable to many.
“People have left the workforce, shifted career paths, or picked up a side hustle,” said Brittany Brady, president, and CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development. “There are more boomers retiring and not the population to backfill. We saw a population uptick this year, so it will be about 20 years before that generation is in the workforce.”
The Mountain Area Workforce Development Board recently conducted a survey with individuals registered on NCWorks.gov to better understand the priorities of job seekers. The top responses for why people weren’t working or applying to certain jobs paid, flexibility, and appeal of the jobs posted.
“Market forces ultimately must address the imbalance between what job seekers want and what employers are able to offer,” Ramsey said. “To address the lack of workers we must expand our region’s workforce. That includes better supporting individuals in recovery, former offenders, expanding childcare options, better transportation options for those who lack adequate transportation, helping older workers stay in the workforce or return from retirement, etc.”
Ryley Ober is a news intern with the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. News tips? Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober