As state unemployment falls, employers and workers say they may still face issues with hiring

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 8:27 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Kentwan Lake left the Drew Wellness Center in Columbia on Thursday with a bag full of forms, pamphlets, and information: the sign of a busy morning as he tries to find a job.

“I saw a few things that caught my interest, so I took that opportunity and applied for those positions,” Lake said.

Lake was one of many who took that first step toward employment Thursday at a community job fair in Columbia.

The fair was organized by City Council Member Tameika Isaac Devine and featured 20 employers, some of whom were hiring on the spot.

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But Lake said in his experience, getting a job isn’t as simple as filling out an application.

“It’s extremely difficult when you’re coming from a background where you have felonies, you know, felony convictions on your record,” he said. “A lot of employers, they don’t want to consider hiring you due to background.”

The job fair also offered resources to help people with barriers keeping them from working, like not having transportation or the education required for certain jobs.

“Sometimes, the narrative that people have that people are sitting home and don’t want to work, of course, is not true, but this proves it,” Isaac Devine said. “People want to work, and they just need the opportunity.”

The job fair came about three weeks after South Carolina ended federal expanded unemployment benefits, following an order from Gov. Henry McMaster, who said the termination of benefits was necessary to address the state’s workforce shortage.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce reported the state’s unemployment rate has dropped slightly, from 4.6% in May to 4.5% in June, as more people find jobs. But many employers say they are still struggling to hire.

Abby Scott boothed a table at the fair for Carolina Conditions, looking to hire for five positions, including plumbers and electricians.

But so many other businesses are hiring right now as well.

“We’re offering a $5,000 sign-on bonus for qualified technicians, and we still don’t have as many as I’d like,” Scott said.

Her company faces hurdles, too, as its jobs require specific qualifications and training.

“There are already a limited number of people within the trades, and then on top of this atmosphere with COVID and everything like that, it’s definitely more difficult to find qualified people who want new jobs,” Scott said.

But some job seekers, like Lake, said they are determined to not let their obstacles stop them.

“You could get 1,000 no’s before you get one yes, and that should be the turning point, you know,” he said.

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