Unemployment is on the rise again in Hall County, and 500 Georgians gave up on the job search during June.
There are jobs available, workforce experts said, but often the skills of those seeking positions don’t match the requirements of the openings. That could explain, in part, Hall County’s jump to 7.6 percent unemployment in June from 6.9 percent during May, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
Department of Labor spokesman Sam Hall didn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of the job search in today’s competitive environment.
“The first thing is to understand that today’s job market is very competitive. Georgia is growing jobs, so the opportunities are increasing, but it’s a slow steady rate of job growth, and as you have people who have been out of work, some for a long time, you’ve also got the ongoing influx of graduates from high school to technical school to universities, so there’s a lot of competition,” Hall said. “A person should treat a job search as if it is a full-time job. You can’t just make a call or touch base every now and then. It’s a day-to-day ongoing project. Think about it this way: At this particular time, you are working for possibly the most important employer — yourself.”
Today, the Department of Labor announced the state's unemployment rate rose to 8.8 percent in July, up from 8.5 the previous month.
And yet for all the stress of a job search, on the opposite side of the coin are employers who simply can’t find employees. There’s been a noted disconnect of supply and demand in the space that employers occupy between a high school diploma and a four-year degree.
“For several years now, the most difficult sector of the workforce for employers to staff has been the skilled trades, specifically in the areas of machining, welding, and (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration),” said Dana Nichols, dean of Academic Affairs at Lanier Technical College’s Oakwood campus.
The Georgia Department of Labor didn’t have statistics on job vacancies in the state, but nationally, some 12 million Americans are unemployed, yet roughly 3 million jobs remain vacant because of a shortage of high-skilled workers for jobs such as plumbing, welding, electrical, construction and related occupations.
The state has looked to technical schools like Lanier Tech to alleviate the shortage of high-skilled workers, Hall said.
“When we have job seekers who come to us looking for employment, there will be those who need to gain additional skills to be able to be able to be competitive in today’s job market, and in that case, we would make sure that the job seeker is aware that he/she needs new skills, and direct them to resources such as one of the state’s technical colleges, where they can help them understand the skills needed,” he said.
Nichols said much of why the shortage exists is an array of social, educational and historical influences.
“A huge reason for the shortage of skilled tradespeople, at least in the U.S., is that for a long time so-called blue-collar careers like these were stigmatized,” she said. “Many mothers and fathers who had provided for their families by working with their hands discouraged their sons and daughters from following in their footsteps; they encouraged them instead to go to a four-year college and obtain degrees in business, architecture, marketing, and the like.
And beyond the parental influence, Nichols said, schools have stumped strongly for four-year degrees.
“High school counselors and other mentors were also steering students away from the blue-collar trades and into white-collar, four-year degree programs. Thus, there isn’t a sufficient supply of young talent in the pipeline ready to replace the large numbers of tradespeople who are now at retirement age,” she said.
And Nichols said the demand is only growing for skilled workers.
“Our infrastructure is aging fast and beginning to require major repairs. Our interstate system, for instance, with its many bridges and overpasses, was begun during the Eisenhower years and now needs restructuring, reinforcing, and/or expanding, all of which demands skilled workers,” she said.
But Nichols said efforts to destigmatize trade work has begun to yield results.
“Gov. Deal’s ‘Go Build Georgia Campaign’ is going a long way toward debunking the myth that people who work in machine shops and wear hard-hats are socioeconomically lesser than the folks who work in office buildings and wear ties to work — careers in the trades are stable and lucrative,” she said.
Wielding a welding tool may not sound glamorous, but at $22 per hour, Nichols said, the median income is nothing to scoff at.
Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce, another group that works with existing businesses and Lanier Tech to fill job vacancies and provide a trained workforce, agreed.
“Technical colleges are trying to be a lot more visible, either straight out of high school or even taking courses while you are still in high school, to get trained for technical careers that pay really good money,” she said, echoing Nichols.
The chamber, and Labor Department, offer resources in the form of job fairs, job matching, giving resume advice and other services, to help job seekers. And no matter how rough the going gets, Hall had some parting words of advice for job seekers.
“Keep a positive outlook. If you don’t come across as positive, that shows through to the employers, and that can hurt your chances,” he said.