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Utah businesses struggle to find employees, many wonder where have all the workers gone

Posted at 9:50 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 23:50:06-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Along the Wasatch Front, Utah businesses are scrambling to find employees. “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere, and many businesses have been forced to reduce hours or services due to being understaffed.

“We just can’t find the people to be here,” said Chase Clark, a co-owner of Timberline Wholesale which sells appliances in American Fork.

“You bring someone in, you interview them, if you let them walk out that door they’re not coming back. We had a secretary that we offered 22 dollars an hour to, and she went over to Adobe and she’s gone,” said Clark.

Job seekers do have lots of options.

“If I had five thousand people here right now, I could have them all working within a day or two,” said Brett Van Leeuwen, owner of Synergy Staffing in Taylorsville.

“We need people in restaurants, stores, shops,” said Van Leeuwen.

Synergy also has many positions to fill in manufacturing, assembly, and labor positions.

So where did all the workers go?

“We have more jobs now than we did before COVID. Idaho is the only other state like that,” said Mark Knold, Chief Economist of Utah’s Department of Workforce Services.

Knold says the growing need for more workers in Utah pre-dates the pandemic. Among the causes, he cites research done by the non-profit and non-partisan group The Conference Board which has been studying business trends for over a century.

They say the massive number of retirees of the ‘Baby Boom’ generation is creating opportunities for people to move up the ladder, leaving more open positions in lower paying jobs.

Another factor is the increase in the number of young people obtaining college degrees or professional training which again, leaves more open positions in lower paying jobs.

Nationally, an increase in the number of Americans qualifying for some for of disability also takes a bite out of the work force.

The Conference Board says a social trend of young men staying single and living with their parents into adulthood also impacts the number of available laborers and blue collar workers, as those young men have less pressure to earn money.

Knold says the need for workers in Utah could get worse before it gets better.

“If our demographics hold as they are now, in the next ten to fifteen years, you're actually shrinking the labor supply,” said Knold.

In the short term, many employers are beginning to offer higher wages to attract new employees.

Knold says in the near future we’ll likely see more automation in some companies looking to reduce the need for workers.

"Let the economy shrink, bring in more in-migration, or replace labor for artificial intelligence. And I don't see shrinking the economy as an option. So I think the combination of those other two will be how we address it going forward,” Knold said.