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Where Are The Workers?

The state’s labor market has been in turmoil since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. Significant numbers of people lost their jobs as employers closed their doors or laid off staff as revenues fell. Others left jobs to care for dependents as daycare and elder care establishments closed. After massive layoffs and business closures early on, many employers have reopened or even expanded. However, some report they are struggling to hire and retain employees. Employers across the state need skilled workers to fill positions, and there are individuals who are not currently in the workforce or are underemployed.

To better understand the experiences behind this data, the ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government and NCGrowth at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise hosted a series of focus groups across North Carolina to explore the impacts of changes in the labor market by asking the question, “Where are the Workers?” The focus groups offered an opportunity to help better understand the underlying issues and use the data generated to help communities as they determine potential solutions.

Voices from Across the State

ncIMPACT and NCGrowth collaborated on a series of focus groups across all 8 of NC’s prosperity zones talking with employers, workforce support providers, and young adults about their experiences since the onset of the pandemic. ​

Our focus on younger workers was driven by the awareness that this age was especially hard hit during the pandemic due to the combination of educational disruptions and higher levels of unemployment compared to other age groups. Individuals from each of these groups shared openly about their challenges, barriers, concerns, needs, and opportunities. Across these geographies and populations, we heard from a diverse set of participants.


While our analysis of the data is ongoing, key themes from each group have already emerged. One of the most salient points so far is a disconnection between what some young workers say they are looking for in a workplace and what employers are providing in terms of attracting and retaining young workers.



“Where Are The Workers?” Webinar Series

This American Work Life – Challenges and Opportunities in the Workforce

Watch the recording from our first webinar in the “Where Are The Workers?” series, “This American Work Life – Challenges and Opportunities in the Workforce.” Hear from ncIMPACT Research Director Jess Dorrance as well as Yadkin County Commissioner and business owner Kevin Austin about how our workforce is changing and how we can adapt to meet the needs of employees and employers.

This American Work Lifewebinar recording

Employability Skills Gap: Addressing the Needs of Opportunity Youth

Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise’s Chief Economist Gerald Cohen joined Carolina Across 100 and NCGrowth for a final webinar following ncIMPACT Initiative’s “Where Are The Workers?” series of focus groups. Find presentation slides from “Employability Skills Gap: Addressing the Needs of Opportunity Youth.”

Employability Skills Gap – download the presentation slides and watch the webinar recording.


Where Are the Workers? Final reports

Where Are the Workers EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Where Are the Workers – Alamance County

Where Are the Workers – Bertie County

Where Are the Workers – Burke County

Where Are the Workers – Columbus County

Where Are the Workers – Mecklenburg County

Where Are the Workers – Onslow County

Where Are the Workers – Wilson County


Bonus OSBM Where Are the Workers? blog

State demographer Dr. Michael Cline notes that changes in North Carolina’s working-age population have contributed significantly to the challenging labor market. Unsurprisingly, rural counties are hit the hardest. Read more in his Where Are the Workers? blog.