St. Clair County workforce inching back to pre-pandemic levels; employers still facing challenges .

Transportation Companies

36 Views

        

While employers are still facing challenges filling positions, data is showing St. Clair County's workforce inching closer to pre-pandemic numbers. 

"There are many job openings in the county that are going unfilled. Nearly every manufacturer or health care related company that we talk to is reporting problems finding workforce," Dan Casey, Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County CEO, said in an email. "Attendance at job fairs is still low."

But Casey said there has been an increase in the labor force month over month. 

"In the past two months, the labor force has increased by about 1,000 workers to just under 75,500 people. Pre-pandemic, the labor force was 76,000 people," he said. 

Why the labor force has seen growth isn't immediately apparent.

"I can only speculate on the uptick in the labor force," Casey said. "Unemployment benefits have run out for some people. But I also think that rising inflation is having an impact. The cost of everything is going up for a variety of reasons. It simply costs more for people to live. That may be driving some people back to work."

And there are plenty of jobs out there for those looking. 

St. Clair County ranked 30th in the state with an unemployment rate of 5.5% in February.

"EDA also tracks the number of job postings on a monthly basis," Casey said. "In last month’s report, there were nearly 1,500 jobs posted on jobs boards like Indeed or Looking Glass. Of course, companies in manufacturing and retail do not always post their job openings. They rely on word-of-mouth. Therefore, I believe that open positions in the county exceeds 1,500 positions. Currently, we have about 4,000 people on the unemployment roll."

Casey said the next step has to be in attracting labor to the county, as it appears the county's demand for labor has exceeded the available pool. 

"EDA is trying to accomplish that by marketing employment opportunities to people willing to commute into the county," he said. "We also are working on a long-term plan to ensure we have sufficient housing, including starter homes, in order to attract new families and college graduates to the area. Population growth may be the key to St. Clair County’s future."

Other factors are also creating challenges in attracting new workers. 

"There are several partner agencies working to increase day care capacity, including opening new facilities," Casey said. "Public transportation is limited by the routes and times served. In other words, public transportation is not always available when and where it is needed."

Public sector also feeling the squeeze 

The city of Port Huron has several positions posted online, including in the police and fire departments. And City Manager James Freed said staffing hasn't gotten any easier. 

"Last summer we hardly had enough staff to keep the grass cut and the beaches open. This year the staffing shortage has only gotten worse," he said in an email. "We are now having meetings about what programming we might need to cut due to worker shortage. We have raised our part-time and seasonal wages significantly, but still struggling. We even took out radio ads to encourage folks to apply. Hiring police and firefighters is becoming a real challenge as well."

Freed said the part-time and seasonal rates were increased from $11 or $12 an hour, to $16 to $18 an hour. 

Karry Hepting, St. Clair County's administrator, echoed the struggle. 

"The county is having similar challenges as all other employers in filling positions.  We are receiving far fewer applicants than previous years for all positions," she said. "Many postings remain open longer than our standard two weeks in order to fill."

Port Huron Schools has also made changes to attract and retain employees. 

"Our HR personnel have been attending and hosting job fairs. We have been successful in hiring for several new educator, custodial, secretarial and food service positions," said Keely Baribuea, the district's director of community relations and marketing. "Our district currently offers the highest base salary in the region for teachers. Increasing wages and providing on the job training and supports for our new hires have been part of our strategy to not just attract new talent but to also retain them."

Contact Liz Shepard at (810) 989-6273 or lshepard@gannett.com.