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Hampton Roads businesses try to fill open positions, but many aren't returning to work

There are more available jobs in Hampton Roads than there are workers to fill them. The concern is multi-layered and unemployment benefits are not to blame

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Businesses are looking for workers both in Hampton Roads and across the country. However, jobs data shows many people have left the workforce entirely over the past two years, leading to labor shortages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, released Friday, fell short of expectations, with the country adding about 194,000 jobs in September instead of a projected 500,000.

In Hampton Roads, there are more available jobs than there are workers to fill them, which is a challenge for a recovering economy.

“We are in a situation then where no matter what we do... we are going to fail to completely meet the needs we have of our employers," said Michael Woodhead, a consultant for the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. 

Since the start of the pandemic, thousands of people have decided to leave the workforce entirely for a variety of reasons, such as childcare or health concerns.

Woodhead said there's no guarantee that people who left the workforce will return, which is a reality that business owners need to accept.

"We need to cut drain on our brain drain and stop losing our young people, we need to retain our high school graduates and college graduates, we need to bring people back to Hampton Roads and the Tidewater area," he said. "We need to grow the base."

RELATED: US employers add a weak 194,000 jobs as delta maintains hold

Expanded unemployment benefits and the increase of people receiving benefits are not to blame for the current labor shortage.

Compared to July 2019, labor data shows the Hampton Roads region is down about 30,000 workers to fill jobs.

Even if every unemployment claimant in Hampton Roads filled an open position, most jobs would still be available.

Plus, the unemployment rate is currently between 4% and 5%, a fairly low mark compared to the large spikes of the last 18 months.

"The bottom line is, we actually have more open positions in the region -- and particularly in the tourism industry -- than we have available workers to fill," Woodhead said.

Labor leaders will still use Incentive programs, training and job fairs for workforce recovery.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council will offer a "Careers in Construction" job fair on November 3 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Chesapeake Conference Center. Details and registration here.

Woodhead said regional leaders will also take the next few months to plan for a big tourism hiring boost in the spring.

“I don’t think there are any easy answers and no clear end in sight to the current situation," Woodhead said. "We've got to create workforce cultures that motivate people to stay in it with us."