Workforce demographics undergo change

Published 11:05 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

JACKSON — Northampton County’s unemployment rate is still holding at just over 11 percent.

Last week, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners heard an update of the economy in Northampton and Halifax counties presented by Tommy McKnight with the Employment Security Commission in Roanoke Rapids.

The Halifax/Northampton Employment Service/JobLink Career Center is currently located in Becker Village Mall and has bounced around locations since a tornado destroyed the Park Avenue building last April.

McKnight said last year 454 clients have found jobs through the center.

“That’s lower than what it usually is, we’ve had up to 6,700, but the way the economy is I think that we did fairly well,” he said.

McKnight said the ES/JobLink center processed 3,522 applications for employment in 2011, which was an average number.

Northampton County’s unemployment rate stands at 11.8 percent, a figure that hasn’t budged much since November of last year when the rate stood at 11.9 percent.

McKnight said the statewide rate stands at 9.8 percent while neighboring Halifax County’s unemployment rate is 13.2 percent.

“Northampton has always been lower that Halifax for some reason,” he said.

McKnight suggested it may be due to the workforce being smaller and unemployment is not affected as much.

“There is a geographical mismatch between the availability of labor and demand in North Carolina and in Northampton County,” he said. “There is a mismatch of skills and growth of the workforce versus skills needed in the economy.”

He noted the workforce demographics within the state are changing as North Carolina is experiencing a migration of workers from other states and countries to fill skilled job openings.

McKnight said there is a projected growth in demand for low-skill, low wage workers in urban areas and in the local area, but not to the extent in other areas.

Businesses utilizing different technologies and innovations have left them with processes that do not require as many workers. McKnight said the data shows that industry is not likely to rehire the same number of workers who were laid off.

“Companies still have openings, but they cannot find workers with the skills to fill these job openings, which are more technologically advanced,” he said.

Meanwhile, McKnight said new middle jobs, which require a higher level of skills, are now replacing low skill middle jobs.

“Many middle jobs will not require a college degree, but will be good paying jobs,” he said. “Many of the new middle jobs will require STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills.”

McKnight said the majority of center’s placement activities have centered around the service sector, such as entry level jobs in warehouse distribution, fast foods, cleaning, commercial laundry workers and health care.

“It’s a continuous challenge to find qualified applicants for jobs in such skilled areas as industrial maintenance, nursing, automotive mechanics, tractor-trailer truck drivers, and skilled construction trades,” he said. “We try to always encourage clients to seek out training which would enable them to obtain employment in skill shortage areas.”