Skip to main content

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.





To learn more watch this recording of the first webinar in the series.