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Utah Businesses Struggling To Find Workers As The State’s Economy Recovers

Roughly 46,000 Utahns are unemployed and looking for work, but there are about 80,000 job openings, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Roughly 46,000 Utahns are unemployed and looking for work, but there are about 80,000 job openings, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Justin Thomas’ company, Point 2 Point Landscaping, took a major hit during the pandemic. He operates across the Wasatch Front. Last March, business dried up, he had to let employees go and could no longer afford to pay for office space.

As Utah’s economy approaches pre-pandemic levels, he’s also had a return to form. But he still faces a major setback — he can’t find the workers he needs.

Thomas said he has over 80 customers, but only two employees and is often running back and forth between jobs to fill in.

He said he’s been posting job offers all over the internet, offering higher pay and bonuses, but he’s gotten zero responses.

“First I thought it was me and my company and what am I doing wrong?” he said. “But then I came to find out, plenty of other business owners are all in the same boat. In my opinion the world has made it too easy for people to sit at home,” referring to expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus checks offered during the pandemic.

Labor shortages were one of the major drags on Utah’s strong economy before the pandemic. That they’ve returned is yet another indicator of the state’s recovery. It’s even more complicated this time around, however, due to the latest federal COVID relief bill extending the extra $300 a week in unemployment insurance through September.

Some economists believe that is a factor in some business’s inability to hire.

But there are also simply more jobs openings now than there are people to fill them, according to Michael Jeanfreau, a regional economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

“We use a resource called Burning Glass to look at job postings,” Jeanfreau said. “And very often we'll get over 80,000 or 90,000 jobs posted online over the state. So it's a significant number. And it's generally more than the number of unemployed people that we have.”

Another part of the problem is a mismatch between the skills people have and the jobs they want, versus the opportunities available, he said.

A lot of the open jobs are in fields like manufacturing and construction. They are often stable and well-paying, but can require difficult, physical work and aren’t typically most people’s idea of a dream career.

Jeanfreau said that means companies now not only have to increase pay and benefits to entice people in, they also have to take on more of the responsibility of training them on the job.

“That's the benefit of this really tight labor market is that it then incentivizes companies to recognize, well, we can't find these employees. I guess we're going to have to make them,” he said.

Jeanfreau said that presents a lot of opportunities for people looking to advance their careers, especially if they don’t have a college degree. But it also puts small business owners like Thomas in a difficult position.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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