Jobs available despite high unemployment rate

By Sage Um

Each week, the Lexington News-Gazette has several help-wanted ads for both part-time and full-time jobs, despite an unemployment rate that is higher than the national, state and county averages.

Business owners say the problem is complicated: They say some people don’t want to work. Others are not qualified. And still others are over qualified and settling for jobs beneath their skills or for part-time work.

“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘I don’t really want a job, but can I say I tried looking for a job here so I can get my unemployment check?’ ” said Tina Miller, owner of Ladles and Linens. “I tried to point them to other jobs, but they got rude and even yelled at me.”

Under federal law, unemployed people can collect benefits if they have been looking for work in the prior four weeks, and they are available to take a job.

Debbie Desjardins, a human resources officer for the city of Lexington, said she also has had a similar experience.

“You can tell by the things they ask,” she said. “They ask about job titles, qualifications, like they’re just going to write it down on a form. They’re really not interested in working.”

She said it is also difficult to fill full-time positions that require a lot of experience.

“Usually the number of applications depends on the job,” Desjardins said. “But we normally get a lot more for clerical jobs and jobs that don’t have a lot of qualifications.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Lexington was 10.7 percent in September. Rockbridge County’s unemployment rate is 6 percent, Virginia’s is 6.4 percent, and the national rate dropped to 8.6 percent in November after being stuck at about 9 percent for most of the year.

Yet the local paper listed 18 to 20 help-wanted ads each week last month. The positions required varying qualifications, from applicants with little experience and a GED to others with graduate degrees and years of experience.

One of the vacancies was for a utility crew supervisor in the city Public Works Department. The salary ranges from $28,406 to $33,766, depending on qualifications.

In response to her ad for a sales associate, Miller said she received about a dozen applications but only one or two were viable candidates. The job involved three to four days of work a week.

When she placed an ad for a part-time job last year, she said she received more applications and filled the position faster.

“The biggest problem seems to be scheduling,” she said. “A lot of people don’t really want to work three to four days a week apparently.”

Since the economy went into free fall in 2008, Desjardins said, the city has seen an increase in applicants for jobs but not as dramatic as she expected.

“I think for trash pickup jobs we’ve had about five applications a few years ago,” she said. “This year we’ve gotten 15.”

Gloria Smitka, a professor of nursing at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, said the demand for nurses—once a constant—is changing as employers are looking for experienced hires and people who are eligible for retirement are continuing to work.

“I think employers have gotten more cautious,” she said. “They’ve become really reluctant to hire new people, probably because of the price of training them.”

Many graduates are taking part-time, night shift and weekend jobs, she said.

“The hospitals definitely want to hire a more qualified person, if they have openings,” Smitka said. “So students in my department are now trying to get their RN, practical nurse, or CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) license as soon as possible.”