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Worker shortage evident in the Mountain State, several reasons cited by officials (The State Journal)


Clarksburg, W.Va - Across the Mountain State, employers are in need of a capable workforce in virtually every industry. But in current times, finding and retaining workers has become a challenge, they say.

“What I hear from employers on a pretty much everyday basis is the difficulty that they are having in attracting workers,” West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said.

Roberts said he was involved recently in a situation where a “very nice piece of business for West Virginia” was looking to come in, as well as hire in-state workers.

Unfortunately, after many calls, taking on the additional business was not possible due to the strain on the current workforce, Roberts said.

“Everybody I talked to said we would love to have the additional business, but we can’t even think about taking it on. We don’t have enough workforce. We have to take care of the business we have, and we are having trouble getting enough workforce to do that. We can’t even think of taking on additional business. ... To me it certainly adds a level of credence to what I’ve been hearing from employers, which is we’ve got jobs; we just don’t have workers,” he said.

Gil White, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the challenges of finding workers is very real among the over 2,000 NFIB members.

“That is not a myth; it’s a reality. I don’t care if it’s large business or small business employers. I think there is a common theme that finding workers is very challenging to say the least,” he said.

According to White, a recent poll was conducted among members in March that showed record high numbers of job openings.

“We are at a record high of 42% of (business) owners reporting job openings that they cannot fill. That’s a very large statistic. That in itself, I think, speaks volumes, and to add insult to injury, 51% of those owners reported that few or no qualified applicants for those positions were even applying.

"So you have a qualification aspect and you’ve got an employment aspect that’s just very challenging for our small business owners in West Virginia,” he said.

According to Roberts, several factors come into play as to why finding and retaining workers is such a challenge at this time.

“One, we have an aging population in the United States and therefore an aging workforce. One of the things that we’ve identified a long time ago is that as the baby boomers age, there are going to be a record number of retirements,” he said.

The baby boomers significantly added to the country’s population, and with the birth rate having not been as high since, there won’t be as many people to fill those vacant roles.

To make matters worse, Roberts said there are individuals who do not want to get back into the workforce because they are receiving CARES Act checks and benefits.

“And you sort of can’t blame people. They are getting a goodly amount of money from the CARES Act for not working. They probably don’t want to go back into the workplace and the expenses that go with working if they don’t have to. There is some belief that the problem is partly related to our benefit structure, which has made it pretty possible to not work and collect benefits,” he said.

White said unfortunately, this is one of the unintended consequences of the pandemic.

“The way it was proposed and implemented, in most cases it’s very lucrative for individuals to choose to stay on unemployment as opposed to going back on their previous employment,” he said.

Another aspect, which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., touched on previously, Roberts said, is immigration.

“We have had a very slow rate of immigration into the United States in recent years. There are people worldwide that would very much love to come to this country and work, and so we have to think that through a little bit,” Roberts said.

“We have to think about how to have a reasonable immigration policy that allows people to come to this country and work, and it sort of seems we are not quite there yet. A number of bills have been offered in Congress that would help get us there, but we are not really there yet, and I think Sen. Manchin is right about that,” he said.

With a restrictive immigration policy, immigrants have not been able to add to the workforce.

Opioid and drug addiction also play a role, Roberts said.

“The addiction problem has taken a lot of potential workers out of the workforce. ... Of course, all employers want a drug-free workforce, but for any kind of sensitive position, they have to drug test. Employers regularly tell us that people will come in and apply, but they fail the drug test,” he said.

Now, Roberts and White said employers must come up with creative solutions to try to incentivize workers to return to the workforce.

Roberts said many businesses that can do so have transitioned to allowing employees to work from home remotely, which also gives way to a bigger pool of workers.

Some employers are starting their own training programs to prepare interested individuals for certain roles, Roberts said. White said some are offering incentive packages for employees who stay a set amount of time.

“Something not to be missed is the fact that when’s there’s a shortage of almost anything, the price goes up. Now there’s a shortage of labor and companies are offering more to get people. There’s a lot of talk nationwide about a $15 minimum wage. It’s not going to be long before that’s a [moot] issue because everybody is going to be paying more than that to keep a workforce,” Roberts said.

Staff writer Steven Baublitz can be reached at (304) 626-1404 or

Read the Story in the State Journal Here

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