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Are Workers Willing To Meet Employers Halfway?

Never before have the nation’s small businesses had such a hard time filling open positions.

The National Federation of Small Business’ monthly jobs report showed that 42% of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill, 20 percentage points higher than the 48-year historical average of 22%. What’s more, 91% of business owners trying to hire reported few or no “qualified” applicants for the positions they were trying to fill in March while 28% of owners reported few qualified applicants for their open positions. Nearly a quarter — 23% — reported no applicants for open positions.

This is a local problem, too.

For all of our hand-wringing over job losses and people dropping out of the labor force, there are jobs open ranging from restaurants to manufacturers. Some local businesses are shutting down an extra day each week because they can’t find people who want to work.

What can be done? There are 3,800 unemployed people in Chautauqua County. Surely some of them are qualified to fill the jobs businesses have available. Continued work to address both availability and the cost of child care is needed, because too many parents have to choose between taking care of their children or working.

Finding a good match between businesses and workers is still difficult, though the Chautauqua County’s Chamber of Commerce and the Chautauqua County Education Coalition have worked hard to form a bridge between businesses and the area’s schools and colleges, but obviously there is still work to be done in training a workforce that meets the needs of area businesses.

But let’s be honest here. A good number of the jobs businesses have open don’t require a college degree. People are choosing not to pursue these positions. Business owners are increasing wages as much as possible to compete with additional federal pandemic benefits. That is difficult for some areas that have been hit hard by pandemic-related restrictions and simply can’t afford executive-level compensation packages, particularly in a state like New York that heaps new taxes and fees on businesses each and every year.

Some of the problem is still related to the pandemic, but the amount of COVID-19 vaccines available in Chautauqua County mean anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be. Fear of contracting COVID-19 should no longer be a concern when it comes to finding work. Vaccinations also will allow schools to fully reopen in the fall, meaning more parents won’t have to make the choice between working and taking care of children.

Given the number of jobs going unfilled, federal pandemic unemployment benefits should be allowed to expire on Sept. 26. The labor market has spent a year being influenced by outside factors — first shutdowns, then hour and capacity limits and now programs like pandemic unemployment that are becoming less and less necessary.

It seems businesses are trying to meet workers halfway. Are workers willing to do so as well?

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