High unemployment, high job vacancies: what isn’t clicking in the Rogue Valley?

ROGUE VALLEY, Or.- There is a huge need for employees here in the Rogue Valley, but there’s also demand for jobs in multiple industries at every skill level.

So what’s happening that’s keeping people from filling these positions?

After decades of trying to fill job vacancies, Nikki Jones with Express Employment Professionals says she’s never seen numbers as opposite as they are in the Valley now.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen our unemployment higher than the national average and the number of jobs open at the level they are,” she explained.  Jones isn’t the only one to notice this anomaly.

“We only have 40% of the workforce that we had a dozen years ago,” said Brad Bennington with the Southern Oregon Builder Association. It’s something the association told us late last year: there are too few workers for too many jobs.

“Our contractors being as engaged and productive as they can, still could not even before the fires, even could not meet all of the demands for building services that our community has,” he said.  But while that organization focuses on helping people become more skilled in hopes of getting hired, workforce experts say skill level isn’t the only reason there are so many job vacancies.

“We’re not looking for those people who have college degrees. The volume is in the general work available and a lot of people can qualify for it,” Jones said.  She says often unemployment pays more than the open positions people qualify for… Making it more appealing to stay home. And, in a national pandemic, it also makes it safer.

“When we reach out to someone, we may or may not hear back from them, they may or may not keep their appointment, they may not finish the process with us to go to work because they are getting jobs elsewhere or they have to remove themselves from the workforce again.”

She also says those eligible to work may be forced to stay home for their family.

“Until the schools are open full time in all locations, parents are just unable to get back to work at the level employers need them to.”

Jones also said many workers, of any skill level, are simply choosing to leave the valley. Between last year’s fires, the on-going pandemic, and a lack of affordable housing, she says many people just don’t see a reason to stay.

Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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