It's a workers' market in South Carolina as employers struggle to find qualified employees

It’s a complaint heard all across the country—companies bemoaning their inability to recruit and retain the workforce they need, even when they are willing to pay them well. South Carolina, despite its growth, is not immune.

“There’s a shortage of workers in South Carolina,” said Joseph Von Nessen, research economist at the University of South Carolina. “Employers are telling us that, across industries, they’re looking to scale up, but they can’t find the workers that meet the qualifications they are looking for. 

“That runs the gamut. For some,that includes specific skill sets that they’re looking for, in manufacturing, for example,” he told the Palmetto Business Daily in a phone interview. “In other areas it could be more the hard skills or also technical skills, but also soft skills.”

Soft skills, Von Nessen explained, are qualities such as showing up on time, passing a drug test, working as a team and also the ability to learn new “hard skills” as technology expands so rapidly that specific skills can become obsolete fairly rapidly.

Joseph Von Nessen, research economist at the University of South Carolina  

With the state’s unemployment rate inching slightly upward but still under 3.5 percent, according to the Employers Association of South Carolinamany skilled workers are in a position to pick and choose for whom and where they would like to work, meaning employers are largely facing a competitive situation when it comes to developing their workforces.

Worker training, or the lack of it, is not an issue, Von Nessen said.

The state, he explained, “does a good job in terms of the education system helping to match potential workers with employer demand. So that’s actually a strength of South Carolina and why our growth rate is actually exceeding the national average. The technical college system does a very good job in terms of assessing employer demand and what skills they are looking for, and then helping to identify South Carolinians and train them to meet that demand.”

But as noted, specific skill sets can become obsolete, which is where “soft skills” such as a good work ethic, capacity for teamwork and ability to learn new things come in as employers such as manufacturers offer on-the-job training to meet specific needs.

But most of the people who have those skill sets and want jobs already have them.

And employers and municipalities thus need to make their jobs more attractive to potential employees. For example, there is a shortage of truck drivers. People in that field leave for a variety of reasons -family needs, age, medical - and not enough young people are interested in taking on those jobs. Tourism and retirement industries are booming in coastal areas, but the cost of housing keeps people from taking jobs in those fields and those areas in many instances.

“Basically, there are more job opening than there are unemployed workers at a national level, and in South Carolina that trend is even more extreme,” Von Nessen said.

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