“Where can I find people?”

That’s the question I hear most often when I talk with Lee County industry leaders.

Many HR managers are hoping the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits on Sept. 6 will bring more people back to the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over ten million job openings in the US. In Lee County alone, the NC Employment Security website lists 2700 vacancies in our labor shed area.

So, you would assume that people would be flocking back to the labor market, right?

Well, in the 21 states that stopped extra benefits back in June, only 4.4% of unemployed people have come back to work. So, why are people not taking these available jobs? The research is sketchy.

But, if there is one thing that most sources agree on, it’s that the pandemic has been a wake-up call. Researchers point to the following reasons people stay at home: Some people want to spend more time with family, others switched to more fulfilling careers or started a new business, some lack the right skills to get a new job in their area, or lack transportation to travel to a new job. For employees in low-wage positions, a job loss has encouraged them to get more education or training. For some, the opposite is the case. People in higher-skilled positions who lost a job will not take a lower paying one. Many older workers are retiring; some boomers are working from home or trying the “gig” economy.

But perhaps the largest percentage are staying home because of difficulties with childcare.

In an article for Governing magazine, Girard Miller, a finance columnist, provides some interesting insight into how employers can get creative to fill vacant jobs.

His report says 7.5 million Americans are not working primarily because of the need to care for homebound children. With young families now the nation’s largest demographic subset, employers face a challenge — and opportunity. Miller says it may be time for them to consider adding child care for their employees’ families.

Miller says in offering child care, the smartest strategies will involve more than just a cafeteria-plan reimbursement. Proximity, access and convenience; superior quality of child care and flexible work hours are key

There are also child-care strategies that differ by location and employer. Some employers may want to sponsor or even build out their own day-care centers on site. Others might collaborate with nonprofit or for-profit preschool providers.

Funders (employers or groups of employers) should expect to have designated access to childcare slots and a method to allocate those slots. Capping the dollar benefit above a percentage of pay so it tilts favorably for lower-income workers or a “reverse seniority” benefit structure that favors new hires might be a savvy counter-intuitive approach to the recruitment challenge. Full subsidy benefits, regardless of income, could apply if an employee or their partner participates in a co-op day-care plan by contributing in-kind services. But simply offering such benefits won’t be enough, says Miller. A marketing strategy and even a promotional budget will be necessary to get the word out locally so that homebound parents will start actively thinking about re-entering the workforce.

Miller concludes that in the current workforce environment, employers will need to exploit every competitive advantage they can muster in the race for talent. Employers who understand employee needs and desires brought by the pandemic could play a leading role in the coming year as the labor market tightens further.

Bob Joyce is senior director, Business Retention and Expansion.

Bob Joyce is senior director, Business Retention and Expansion.