Higher wages, more opportunities for Stanly job seekers, says NCWorks manager

ALBEMARLE — Like in much of the country, employers in Stanly County are scrambling to fill job openings as they compete over a limited pool of workers. While this is often frustrating for businesses, it is leading to increased wages and more opportunities for job seekers, according to Gus Vanegas, career center leader at Stanly County’s NCWorks Career Center. 

NCWorks is a program run by the state of North Carolina which helps the unemployed find work and helps employers find workers. They operate career centers across the state, including the one managed by Vanegas in Albemarle, and those receiving unemployment benefits are required to set up an account with them.   

“We print out the job list every day, and it’s a large list; we have about three pages of jobs on it,” Vanegas told SCJ on May 24. 

He said they work with people one-on-one to make sure they have an up-to-date resume, talk to them about what jobs might match their skills and interests, and then help them apply for jobs. And, at the moment, Vanegas said there are more jobs available than usual in Stanly.  

“Right now, the market is good for the job seeker, because they can find a better job very easily. And that’s what’s happening.” 

Vanegas said those who are making $10 an hour, for example, should find it “very, very easy to find another company that will pay you at least two more dollars.” 

“Companies in Stanly County are raising wages — I’m telling you. They’re becoming more competitive, and they’re paying better,” Vanegas said. “A lot of people are switching jobs. They’re going into a different company, because they can make more money. The companies that took too long to raise those wages are the companies that see people leaving.” 

He said there are a wide variety of industries that need employees, including existing companies that are expanding operations in the county.  

Vanegas specifically named J.T. Russell and Sons, an asphalt company out of Albemarle, as one employer doing a lot of hiring. This is, in part, due to the big infrastructure bills coming out of Washington, D.C. that are funding projects using local contractors. 

“We see J.T. Russell looking for more people, and we see other companies doing the same type of work with heavy equipment looking for people,” Vanegas said. He said that manufacturing is also looking for people, “but it seems like right now, they are having struggles finding people.” 

The food service industry is another area looking for workers, but he said it was always difficult for them, because their thin margins prevent them from increasing wages much.  

Nationally, there is a debate about whether unemployment insurance benefits, which include a $300 federal bonus, are too attractive, causing some to prefer staying on the benefits rather than finding a job.  

“There are people for whom that may be the reason,” Vanegas said. But he also noted it was more likely a mix of reasons, and for many other people, it’s that they lack child care or are having to take care of family members with COVID. 

“I got COVID back in July, and I was really sick,” he said. “And my wife was taking care of me as best as she could, and then she got sick as well. So whenever you get infected from COVID, it’s like your whole family is going down.” 

NCWorks also runs trainings and seminars out of their Albemarle office. Vanegas said he is starting a recurring seminar, to be held on the fourth Tuesday of the month, to help “justice-involved” job seekers find work and to make them aware of legal resources, like expungement. After the presentation every month, an employer will come in and take applications. 

So the first one we’re going to do is going to be tomorrow [May 25], and J.T. Russell is going to be the first employer doing that,” Vanegas said.