Laurens County has more jobs than it can fill.
A common reaction is that it’s a good problem to have, and a common solution, particularly among public officials, is adapting the educational system to matching skills with labor opportunity in order to fill “good-paying jobs.”
On the streets of the county, however, the talk is more often centered on the inability of retailers to fill positions, which has caused some such businesses to shorten hours and some consumers to decry a decline in service.
An online search of several job sites revealed listings of about 200 retail openings in the county and nearby. They range in titles through a variety of names: shift leader, consultant, associate, manager trainee, seasonal/temp, product demonstrator and “key holder” (apparently the latest term in an evolution that runs from employee through associate).
The logical solution is often not what businesses want to hear.
“If you need workers, you have to pay them more to get them to work,” City of Laurens Administrator Gary Coleman said. “I don’t know of any other solution.”
On the other hand, finding the right fit is difficult from the employer’s perspective. Locally owned businesses find difficulty filling jobs.
“I’ll bet you we hire a dozen for every one that sticks,” said Angie Jones Rice of Clinton Tire. “A lot of people tell us they’ve always wanted to work on cars, but when it comes right down to it, they find it difficult to adapt to the responsibility of showing up on time and working every day.”
Coleman’s counterpart in county government, Jon Caime, added, “Labor has the upper hand in finding work right now. Finding people to fill lower-scale jobs is a difficult task. Laurens County has a lot of involvement in construction, where companies are having to hire people who are barely skilled. Some are no longer drug-testing people. They’re hiring anyone they can because of the way the market is. That’s a problem all over the place.”
CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc., parent of Hardee’s, has posted dozens of openings in the Upstate. Clinton is the site of the county’s only Hardee’s, but restaurants are also located near the county’s borders in Enoree and Fountain Inn, as well as several others nearby in Greenwood, Newberry, Honea Path, Simpsonville and Pelzer.
Dollar General has multiple stores in Laurens and Clinton, as well as locations in Gray Court, Waterloo, Cross Hill and Joanna. Most post openings on a regular basis. Cato Fashions in Laurens is actively seeking help, as well as as grocery chains, and fast-food restaurants such as Wendy’s and Little Caesar.
“We’ve been through a recession where people were hungry for work,” Caime said. “Now, in Laurens County, we have historically low unemployment. Things are changing with the participation rate.
… What we’ve got is a paradigm shift. Low skill is in higher demand. Many jobs have been or are being automated. Now jobs require higher skills, but they offer higher pay and more security, and it’s harder to move those jobs overseas.
“Another problem is that people are less mobile. In the old days, people would move to where the jobs were. Now people are more interested in family and where they grew up. Here we’ve got low unemployment, plenty of jobs, but people try to make ends meet where they are. It’s a tough thing, but we also went through a pretty bad recession.”
In the short run, the problem is likely to worsen as kids return to school.