Worker shortage provides chance to increase racial diversity in workforce

VIDEO: Worker shortage provides chance to increase racial diversity in workforce

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A new report from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce forecasts 28,000 new jobs coming to the area over the next 10 years.

While economic experts do not predict a big shift in the jobs market any time soon, they do expect a gradual decline in some industries and growth in others being accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s talent report shows which industries are growing and which ones are shrinking in the Tri-County area.

“The industries we predict will do well are doing well right now - manufacturing, IT, engineering, health care, logistics,” Chamber spokesperson Tina Wirth said. “We want to steer people into those pathways because the faster we get people re-employed the better our recovery is going be.”

Some of these industries will struggle to find qualified applicants, which could stall growth. The report lists 20 career fields that could face a talent shortage. The top three fields are projected to have less than one applicant per job posting. Healthcare practitioners and technicians take the top spot with 1,085 estimated positions and only 342 applicants.

“We know there are tremendous shortages in health care because health care is really important right now. We also know there is a tremendous surpluses in cashiers and customer service positions. There are up to seven or eight applicants for every one job opening there,” Wirth said. “This is the great disconnect. You have this body of workers who are looking for work and you have these job openings that are not being filled. It’s often because the people looking for work don’t have the skills that are needed.”

Wirth says this kind of data drives how we think about education. She says their number one mission is to make sure middle, high, and college students are aligned with where the jobs are going to be.

The report laid out another issue, this one more cultural than economic.

“We made it a point in this report to call out earning disparities by race because it’s important to pay attention to that. It’s always been an issue in our region,” Wirth said. “The reality is 71 percent of our workforce is white and the remaining 29 percent are people of color. When you take a look at where the highest paid occupations are, it’s dominated by white workers disproportionally.”

The report shows the top four income categories have white workers at rates of 79% to 85% of the workforce. That same trend is reversed at the low end of the wage latter. In the bottom four wage categories, non-white workers make up anywhere from 33% to 58% of the workforce. Right in the middle, white and non-white workers are proportionally represented in sales and retail.

With health care in need of workers and social justice demanding economic parity, one way to kill two birds with one stone is to encourage more non-white workers to get qualifications needed to participate in the health care sector.

“We need to have an intentional recovery that seeks to get people reemployed but that also lifts up the displaced workforce and young people of color so there is better economic parity,” Wirth said.

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