CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Unemployment in West Virginia is at or near an all time low, but there is debate over whether we’ve reached a “worker shortage” in the state. Employers are looking for help, but in a fertile market for job seekers it’s a struggle to hire and retain qualified, skilled, and drug free staff.
“This is in some ways a worker’s market. If you are someone who has skills and you’re in the workforce, it’s a great time because employers are going to be competing with each other to hire you,” said Brian Dayton, Vice President of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
However, Ryan Nunn, policy director at the Hamilton Project, disagrees with the premise of a worker “shortage.” Speaking on MetroNews Talkline, he maintained the workers are there, but employers aren’t yet willing to increase compensation enough to attract them.
“If you walk into a shop and say, ‘Here’s the price I’m willing to pay for a good or service,’ and the shop says, ‘We’re not willing to supply it at that price,’ you don’t necessarily say there’s a shortage, you are not able to get what you want at that price,” Nunn explained.
Nunn believes there needs to be increased compensation and partnerships with community colleges which would entice more workers to become trained and go to work if their training and education could be funded by a prospective employer.
Dayton said members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce are already engaged in those activities. Some have partnered with local community colleges to help train a worker pool. Many employers have also increased starting pay well beyond minimum wage because they’re having no luck hiring anyone at that price. Dayton said in West Virginia, there is definitely a shortage.
“Our members are located across the entire state in all 55 counties. What we are hearing from them is they are having difficulty in finding people for open spots with the necessary skills or who can pass a drug screening,” he said.
The drug screening is complicated. Nunn believed employers could increase their chances of hiring if they were willing to relax typical standards, meaning some leniency on the drug screening..
“If you need more workers and you’re not finding them at the wages you’ve traditionally been paying, you need to look to those other opportunities. It may be those workers you normally wouldn’t have looked to or trying to make your compensation more attractive,” he said.
Accepting workers who may not pass a drug screen isn’t an option in some cases according to Dayton. Employers aren’t willing to take a chance on a positive drug test when the position could expose the public to unnecessary risk and leave the employer exposed to high risk of a lawsuit or potential responsibility for damages. He cited a heavy equipment operator or truck driver as key examples.
Fort he moment, as West Virginia’s employment picture continues to improve, more jobs are being added to the state’s economy. Dayton is hopeful the trend can continue, but it’s unclear.
“We’ve seen a fairly steady employment going up in West Virginia, but there is concern can you sustain that as your pool of workers shrinks down,” he said.