As Job Market Booms, Local Employers Need to Fill Skilled Positions
If you’re looking for a job in the Augusta area, the timing has never been better – especially if you’re a skilled worker.
“It’s an employees’ job market,” said Randy Hatcher, president of MAU Workforce Solutions in Augusta. “If you want a job, now is the time to get it.”
Augusta is a microcosm of what is happening at the national level. On June 1, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that employment in May had a net increase of 223,000 jobs and that unemployment was at an 18-year low at 3.8 percent. For African-Americans, the unemployment rate is at a historic low of 5.9 percent, and college graduates have an unemployment rate of 2 percent. In addition, wages have increased.
While Augusta’s unemployment rate is a bit higher than the national average, around 5.2 percent, it is on a downward trend. Instead of employees clamoring for jobs, employers are eager to find people to fill positions.
“Most of the skilled labor jobs are really hot right now,” said Robert Kelly, senior staffing specialist with Augusta Staffing. “People are moving things and making things more than they have in a while.”
Augusta has also seen an increase in wages, in part because of adjustments made with salaried employees regarding last year’s change in overtime policies.
“I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that pay rates have gone up,” Kelly said. “There are still jobs paying minimum wage but not nearly as frequently as 10 years ago.”
“The average wage is going up, not only for full-time employees but also for employees who work on contract,” he said.
Wages in the Augusta area typically have been about 13 percent below the national average, but that is offset by the cost of living also being 13 percent below the national average.
While the job market is great for employees, it leaves some employers with unfilled jobs. Positions in food services and lower-skilled jobs in areas such as warehousing are quickly filled, but jobs that need specialized skills such as welding or pipe fitting are harder to fill.
“It’s a healthy adjustment for the workers because their skill sets are being recognized,” Hatcher said. “But it’s harder to find people. I feel sorry for some of the employers.”
Adding to that is the beginning of what could be glut of skilled job openings as baby boomers retire (see more on page 2).
The job-heavy situation is creating some changes in employee-employer relationships.
“More companies are focusing on training and developing their own team,” said Kristin Hansen, director of career services for Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA.
She believes that more emphasis on development creates more dedicated and loyal employees.
“I think every employee, from entry level to the C-suite, wants to be developed in some way as a team member and be involved in a team,” she said.
In addition to staffing, Goodwill offers education and training resources through its Job Connection centers, as well as training for specific skills in culinary arts and health services through Helms College. Other agencies, such as Augusta Staffing and MAU Workforce Solutions, have also developed training programs for their clients.
But the training many employers want isn’t so much in specific job skills as in what have become known as the “soft skills” — personal appearance and conduct, showing up to work on time, getting along with others and similar interpersonal skills.
“It’s like employers are craving soft skills,” Kelly said.
Hansen said, “Employers are looking for qualified employees with education and experience, but a close second is employees with professional skills — how to be a great employee, how to be professional on the job.”
Megiddo Dream Station, based in Aiken but with several branches in the CSRA, has a mission of training people in soft skills as well as in personal skills, including money management. Because of that, Kelly said, graduates of Megiddo are in high demand in the job market.
The shortage of skilled labor for specific jobs has led some companies to offer old-fashioned apprentice programs.
“You’re almost guaranteed a position if you’re willing to go through an apprenticeship,” Kelly said.
Many companies are also partnering with local schools, from middle school through college, to prepare students for the types of jobs that are available in the area.
“We start educating the parents of middle schoolers that they can’t wait until they’re juniors to start thinking of a career,” Hatcher said. “We’re educating the educators on manufacturing.”
That includes bringing teachers into local manufacturing plants to see what various jobs entail and the skills required for them.
Hatcher and Kelly agree that Augusta has a great base of diverse of jobs, ranging from hospitality to medical to manufacturing, which will benefit both employers and employees.
“We’re very blessed with very diverse industries,” Kelly said. “Any one of these industries would make an area successful.”
Will the job market continue to grow, nationally and in Augusta?
“’I don’t know’ is my best answer,” Hatcher said. “We seem to be doing the right things to address the issues. We have solutions in place — they’re not perfect, but we’re working through them and it’s making all of us better. It’s a great problem to be part of.”