I-TEAM: Local business owners feel impact of job vacancies

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 7:09 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - ‘Tis the season for summer jobs, but getting help when help is needed is a challenge post-pandemic.

Job openings in the two-state are among the highest in the nation, and it’s forcing local business owners to think outside of the box to compete for workers.

From summer essentials to last-minute gifts, the shelves at Communigraphics are stocked with fabulous finds, but the hottest commodity is not on the counter.

Liz: “How is the job search going?”

Traci Hooks, president, Communigraphics: “Awful.”

It’s behind the counter.

Hooks: “I thought I had put the wrong email address for people to send their resumes. I literally did because probably for the first four days, we had zero applicants.”

Hooks knows to adapt when trends change.

Hooks: “I’ve never seen that. Never ever.”

This is a first in her 20 years in retail.

Hooks: “We put three or four jobs out there for the last two weeks, and we got three applicants.”

Liz: “What is the normal.”

Hooks: “We would have 20 to 80 applicants years ago before COVID.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows unemployment is down 75 percent, and the two-state region holds among the highest rates of new hires. Yet Hooks still struggles to fill positions at her store in North Augusta. She isn’t alone.

South Carolina holds the fourth-highest rate of job openings in the nation across the river. Georgia comes in at number two.

Liz: “How frustrating is it?”

Hooks: “It’s incredibly frustrating because you set a level of service, and you expect a certain type of employee who can provide that service.”

People are quitting jobs in retail, hospitality, and food service more than in any other industry. According to the Pew Research Center, the number one reason workers gave for leaving a job last year: low pay.

Hooks: “I’ve seen a lot of people go to jobs that they’re not qualified for.”

Liz: “Have you had that happen here?”

Hooks: “Oh yeah, multiple times.”

But Hooks is adapting to the changing workforce, tapping into an unlikely pool of candidates.

Hooks: “What we see are a lot of applicants who haven’t done a lot in the last four or five years.”

Stay-at-home mothers.

Hooks: “We changed full-time jobs to part-time. We’ve offered for people to set their hours or weekdays.”

It’s a compromise she’s willing to take to staff her business. A big concern for small business owners in Aiken County is the impact year-round school will have on staffing next year.

Working mothers all in need of vacation or childcare at the same time could impact staffing levels when school is out, and summer programs are not available for children.

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