Tennessee employers discuss state of staff shortages after COVID-19 unemployment programs end


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As employers in Tennessee face staff shortages amid the pandemic, some say they are starting to see some changes.

Several pandemic unemployment programs expired in Virginia over the past week. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, those benefits expired in July.

A couple of months after those benefits expired some employers, like LabConnect in Johnson City, are filling positions.

Chief Operating Officer Barry Simms said while difficult in some ways, his company has hired in-house and home-based workers over the past few months. Simms said he’s especially seen an increase in demand for home-based jobs.

“Once you know some of the federal stimulus programs ran out, we did see some opening as far as some movement in the home-based positions especially,” Simms said. “We’ve obviously been successful. We’ve added 100 staff in our company this year, but it has been more difficult in some ways.”

Meanwhile, in the restaurant industry, Aubrey’s Restaurant managers said that they’re still dealing with a staff shortage.

“Still haven’t really seen a big change yet,” District Manager Mickey Korzybski said. “As far as the front-of-house, server-wise, we’re doing really well, back of the house is where we’re really hurting.”

Korzybski said that previously the restaurant dealt with people scheduling interviews and not showing up, but, now more people are showing up.

“Hopefully now that’s the governments stopped everything, we’ll be able to, you know, things will get back to normal,” Korzybski said. “We don’t know what that normal is right now, but hopefully we get to that point sometime very soon.”

Mitch Miller, Northeast Tennessee Economic Regional Partnership CEO, said the pandemic isn’t the only reason we may see more vacant jobs.

“You got baby boomers that are retiring and phasing out of jobs, fewer people being born,” Miller said. “So, the future workforce you’ve got to shift and change in that and just the change in the way to people do business.”

Miller works to bring new industries to the area and help existing companies locally. Miller said from a manufacturing standpoint there’s been an improvement.

“The ability to find people to come in for jobs, showing up for interviews, things along those lines has gotten much better,” Miller said. “Obviously, there’s still some challenges that people face but since benefits have ended we have seen an improvement.”

LabConnect said it is hoping to hire at least another 100 people over the next year.

“I would love to say like a floodgate’s opened, and it’s a lot different to hire folks today,” Simms said. “We’ve seen a few more applicants coming in, but once again probably more movement on the home-based jobs.”

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