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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – When Volvo America recently announced it was expanding and consolidating its employee base in Greensboro, there was also another second piece of important news.

The company was in a hiring frenzy and needed to fill about 200 positions in the city, its spokesperson said. That means Volvo was trying to hire about 13% of the roughly 1,600 positions it contributes to the Triad’s employment puzzle.

Hiring to fill basic jobs and gaping holes in the supply chain has changed the employment picture in the past year from one in which too few people were employed during the coronavirus pandemic to one in which too few employers can find suitable numbers to keep their operations fluid.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported Wednesday that there were 11.3 million jobs open on the last day of January, which is a record. “Other services,” durable goods and manufacturing showed the greatest increase in numbers. Food services, transportation, warehousing and utilities all saw declines. About 6.5 million workers were hired in January, but about 4.3 million workers quit their jobs, the survey said.

This is how employment breaks down in North Carolina. (NC Dept. of Commerce)

Those trends fuel the report last week that U.S. unemployment nationally had fallen to 3.8% in February, its lowest rate since the pandemic struck in March 2020. Some 678,000 jobs were added in January.

In North Carolina, the unemployment rate as of December, the most recent figure available, was 3.7%, which generally is considered to be full employment. If you narrow that to 14 counties that comprise the Piedmont Triad, the mean is about 3.1%, ranging from 2.7% in Davie and Surry counties to 3.8% in Guilford County. Wake County has the state’s lowest rate, at 2.5%, and Scotland County has the highest, at 6.9%.

It’s difficult to calculate exactly how many jobs are available across the region and the state, but it’s clear that employers are jockeying to attract workers who have the required skills and commitment to delivering for their customers.

Pays scales rising

Three of the Triad’s largest employers – Atrium Health Wake forest Baptist, Cone Health and Novant Health – all recently raised their minimum wage to $15, and Atrium went to $16. LabCorp of Burlington, which has roughly 5,200 employees, also is paying a minimum $15.

Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte but employs hundreds across the Triad, has said it would pay a minimum of $25 an hour by 2025.

That trend is blossoming across the country, with Target announcing recently that it will boost its minimum to $15 to $24 an hour, varying scale that based on location (for instance, paying more in New York City than in Sioux City).

North Carolina’s minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour and isn’t scheduled to increase this year, although several states are tracking toward a rate of $15 per hour, with 21 having boosted rates on Jan. 1.

You may also have heard recent advertising by Amazon to tout the entry-level salary and benefits the company is providing. Amazon employs thousands across the Triad and will be adding hundreds more when it builds another distribution facility in Guilford County.

Future job growth

Overture jet (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)
Overture jet (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)

Although you hear about the glut of employment most often in construction-related, hospitality and customer-service-type roles, the need for a variety of positions is expanding. In the Triad in the coming years, there will be thousands of new jobs for Toyota’s battery manufacturing facility at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite and for the airplane manufacturing facility to be built by Boom Supersonic at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

Because of those companies’ billions of dollars in investments and others like them, North Carolina is expecting to add about 550,000 jobs by 2024, with most of those in the service sector but about 135,000 in health care and social assistance, which are among the largest employers in the Triad.

Those figures, compiled in a report published by the NC Department of Labor, suggests that total employment will grow by 12.6%, which is twice the national average of 6.4%. The report said the growth rate between 2012 and 2022 was about 12.9%.

How to meet that need

Leaders are watching this, listening to businesses and trying to ascertain what steps must be taken in the market to meet employers’ needs to match skilled labor with highly specific jobs.

Michael Garrett
State Sen. Michael Garrett

“I regularly speak with business leaders and community advocates about strengthening our local economy; it was one of the major reasons I decided to run for office,” state Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) said in response to emailed questions. “Our community is fortunate to have several strong institutions of higher education which have been investing and preparing themselves for the jobs of the future.

“While we have made significant progress in preparing our universities and colleges to meet the demands of the new economy, we must do more to create opportunities for access for our citizens.”

Said state House Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) in a text to WGHP: “There have been a lot of discussions about enhancing trade skills. Existing and prospective employers have highlighted the need for skilled labor. Examples include welding, electrical, HVAC and high-tech machine operators.”

Specific requirements

Volvo headquarters
This is a rendering of the U.S. Uptime Center that will house Volvo Financial Services (VOLVO)

That returns us to the hiring needs of companies large and small across the Triad. You’ve heard about needs in school systems, with shortages of both teachers and school bus drivers, and therein lies a snapshot of the employment picture.

Volvo, for instance, also needed a broad base of employment skills to fill those 200 openings it was advertising.

“Of the 200, around 75 are for technical positions, such as engineering, designers, IT, etc.,” Volvo spokesperson Mary Beth Halprin. “Many of the positions are considered ‘green jobs’ as they are supporting our sustainability efforts with our products and operations.

“Other open positions range from procurement to HR, across a range of business functions.” She said there is a website to provide full details about all the openings.

The picture in the Triad

To get a picture of what the employment needs are across the Triad, though, WGHP in January surveyed the 25 largest employers in the region, as compiled by Triad Business Journal. Based on data compiled last spring, together they employed about 125,000, ranging from more than 20,000 at Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health to more than 2,300 at Wake Forest University.

The response was hit and miss. Some employers said they couldn’t participate or didn’t have the figures. Some promised data that was not be delivered. The U.S. Postal Service required a formal public records request that languished. Several – including those at the top and bottom of the list – didn’t even generate a courtesy response of any sort to repeated emails to their communications staffs.

So this effort only gathered snapshots of these employers’ needs, but they do provide insights that can be translated to employment opportunities for those with a variety of skills and experiences across the market. The survey requested employment figures but also asked about the number of openings, how long it took to fill openings and methods and incentives used to find those employees.

Here are some tidbits:

  • The city of Greensboro, which had about 3,540 employees as of Jan. 1, said it took an average of 144 days – nearly five months – to fill an open position. The city also is offering some sign-on and retention bonuses and extra pay for shift differentials and bilingual skills, HR Communications Specialist Latoya Harris said.
  • Wells Fargo reported that it had roughly 2,300 employees in the Triad at the start of the year, about 300 or so fewer than in the spring, but its spokesperson declined to provide the number of openings or respond to other questions.
  • Eden Bloss, spokesperson for UNC-Greensboro, said that the university employs about 3,477 locally. “I know we have been intentional about the ways we are sharing our job openings in Human Resources,” she said, “and I have a feeling the time to fill positions varies based on the type of position.”
  • Davidson County Schools as of Jan. 1 employed just more than 2,500 employees, about 100 fewer than last year, and reported about 96 openings across the district, about 30 of them teachers or substitutes but about half of all positions full-time. To find those people the district has implemented retention bonuses. “Earlier this year we offered a retention bonus to employees that began by a certain date (September 1, 2021, and January 5, 2022) and continue to work with our district as of October 31, 2021, and/or June 2, 2022,” spokesperson Lowell Rogers wrote in an email. “Also, our employees are eligible for various state bonuses provided by the recent state budget.”

Meeting those needs

Triad colleges, universities are key for Greensboro-Randolph Megasite workforce
Triad colleges, universities are key for Greensboro-Randolph Megasite workforce

Sometime in the next year or so Boom and Toyota will start to advertise to fill their highly divergent but specific needs. The salaries for their thousands of jobs are planned to be in the average range of about $64,000. Each facility will present new technical requirements and new demands on the workforce, and Boom, for one, is investing in developing that workforce, too.

We can and will meet the demands of Toyota and Boom,” Garrett said. “The culture of both of these firms demonstrates their desire to play an integral role in identifying, growing, and promoting their team’s workforce. I believe the presence of these companies will enhance and grow our workforce creating other opportunities to recruit industry to our economy.”

Both he and Hardister said they see the community college system as being key to growing and training that workforce.

N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)
N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)

“As we continue to build out our aviation industry in the triad, we will need to support our community colleges in investing in aviation education centers, as well as support their industry partnerships,” Garrett said. “We need to do more to incentivize young people to take advantage of the strong trade programs at our local community colleges.”

Said Hardister: Much of this can be accomplished through the community college system. There is already great work being done, such as through the Eastern Triad Workforce Initiative, which NC has invested in, but there is more work to be done. We need to continue investing in these education initiatives while also maintaining regular communication with the private sector to determine what their needs are.

“In addition, we need to encourage high school students to consider career and technical pathways. These jobs pay well, and they are critical for our economy. It is also very affordable for students to obtain an education in these areas.”

Caring for children

Garrett also cited some peripheral issues to support people entering the job market, including that key element that emerged during and after the COVID-19 pandemic peaked: early childhood education and child care.  He said leaders for too long had neglected “critical investments, and now our community will need to play catch-up in order to compete for good paying sustainable jobs.”  

“The business community has made early childhood education one of their top priorities,” he said. “High quality education in the early years of a child’s development has a significant impact on a child’s brain development. One of the greatest returns on investment we can make as a community is investing in our young people in their very earliest years.

“Additionally, COVID-19 shined a light on the critical need for quality childcare to ensure workforce participation across all demographics.”