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From Site Selection magazine, September 2018

Labor Supply: Half Full or Half Empty?

An employer needs survey takes the temperature of the Tar Heel State’s labor market.


Perhaps expanding employers in central North Carolina, especially in the Piedmont Triad — the region anchored by Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point — will find the large numbers of workers they'll need in the coming months with no problem. A recent workforce survey says that may not be the case.

The population of the Triad and the nearby Raleigh-Durham metro, the high number of college grads North Carolina produces each year and a significant military retiree and spouse population should help staff an expansion at the FedEx Express Mid-Atlantic Hub at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro that will require 400 new workers. A site in Kernersville, in Guilford County, was believed at press time to be the location of an Amazon fulfillment center, though no final plans had been announced. And the same county was believed in the spring to be the site of a $400 million regional distribution center for Publix Super Markets that would employ 1,000; that project, too, had not been officially announced in late August. 

Those projects alone, should they come to fruition, will make a sizable dent in the region's supply of workers. These companies and others will find a recent study of North Carolina's labor market of great interest. The key finding of the 2018 Employer Needs Survey, published by the NCWorks Commission and conducted on its behalf by the North Carolina Department of Commerce's Labor & Economic Analysis Division (LEAD): Half of North Carolina employers had difficulty filling open positions in the late 2016 to early 2018 timeframe.

Businesses Weigh In

The survey, an update to similar surveys released in 2014 and in 2016, asked more than 2,000 North Carolina businesses about their hiring practices with an emphasis on hiring difficulties and workforce needs. In addition to an overall sample of all industries, researchers surveyed a sample of manufacturers and a set of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related industries.

Among the findings of the survey were:

  • Fifty percent of employers who tried to hire in the past year had difficulty filling at least one position, up from about 40 percent in 2016;
  • Manufacturers and STEM-related businesses found it more challenging to fill positions than employers as a whole, with nearly 60 percent reporting difficulty hiring;
  • Employers in the state's two largest metropolitan areas (Charlotte and the Research Triangle) had less difficulty hiring (40 percent) than businesses overall, while employers in the state's medium-sized metro areas had more difficulty (61 percent);
  • The top two reasons employers gave for their hiring difficulties were "employability" issues (such as a lack of a strong work ethic, professionalism or reliability) and a low number of applicants;
  • Seventy percent of rural employers cited a low number of applicants as the top reason for difficulty, a significantly higher percentage than that of employers as a whole (55 percent);
  • Eighty-eight percent of all employers said that they attempted to fill at least one position in the past year;
  • Prospects for job growth remain strong, with 43.3 percent of employers expecting the size of their own workforce to increase this year, and only 2.3 percent expecting it to decrease.

"This year's survey provides vital data about the extent to which North Carolina businesses are experiencing hiring difficulties and identifies the top reasons, recognizing that different challenges exist for different industry segments, different business sizes and different regions," NCWorks Commission Chair Kevin Trapani wrote in a letter accompanying the report on the survey results. "The conclusions drawn from the report will assist the workforce development ecosystem to develop or move to scale data-informed policies and programs that equip job seekers with the skills and experience required by businesses."

"This year's survey provides vital data about the extent to which North Carolina businesses are experiencing hiring difficulties and identifies the top reasons, recognizing that different challenges exist for different industry segments."
— NCWorks Commission Chair Kevin Trapani

In particular, he cited the need for younger North Carolinians to participate in apprenticeships, internships and other work-based learning programs that will help them develop employability skills. Trapani also said that the survey pointed to opportunities for the state's workforce system to more fully engage with employers and promote greater awareness of available resources.

"The findings in the report support the key elements of Governor Roy Cooper's NC Job Ready initiative and his priorities for workforce development, to which we are fully committed," Trapani said. "Our continued, collaborative progress on NCWorks Certified Career Pathways, business engagement strategies, and NCWorks Career Centers will support NC Job Ready by preparing North Carolinians for the jobs of today and tomorrow."

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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