If you go on a drive down Main Street, you’ll probably see “Help Wanted” or “Now Hiring” ads for several businesses, primarily fast-food restaurants.
Over the past year and a half, a labor shortage has crept across the nation and made its way to Maryville. But the complex issue of economic growth, as a whole, is not all negative for the town of 11,600.
Northwest Assistant Professor Tolina Fufa, who has a doctorate degree in economics, said he is hopeful the economy will stay on its current road to recovery.
“People should feel cautiously optimistic as the economy is rebounding and we are gradually returning to our normal life,” Fufa said. “Despite a few businesses in town looking for more work, you can already see the economy bouncing back in Maryville.”
“There have been some new businesses open recently, including Kris and Kate’s Ice Cream, as well as the planned opening of Sweet Dreams Donuts and Coffee and the new location of Grill Sergeant Barbecue,” Fufa said.
However, because so many places in Maryville are still looking for more workers, Fufa said the city is not out of the woods yet.
Fufa said the labor skills gap, COVID-19 pandemic, lack of affordable child care and generous unemployment insurance all played a part in short staffing nationwide.
Fufa said the labor skills gap is the mismatch between skills employers want and those that workers have. It existed before COVID-19 and was worsened by the pandemic, which caused an increase in demand for tech and digital skills that may not have been there.
“This problem is worsened by COVID-19 that forced businesses and workers to work remotely, at least for some time,” Fufa said. “This, of course, caused businesses to rely on workers with strong digital skills even more.”
Fufa said he thinks the gap between what employers want and what employees have could be fixed if businesses and the government provide equal access to education, and work to expand their workforce development options, including affordable training and education programs.
According to Fufa, other measures that could alleviate the labor shortage include providing child-care services and paid leave for working parents. Nationwide, there have been more businesses offering child care as an employee benefit.
But in the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has played an undeniably large role in the labor shortage. Fufa said the stay-at-home orders, death tolls and health losses caused by the pandemic have led to this economic fallout.
“Although the stay-at-home orders are lifted, the pandemic continues to pose serious health concerns which contributes to the current labor shortage,” Fufa said. “This is true for Maryville, as there are plenty of businesses in town that either can not or will not operate online. Across the nation, the businesses that have been able to go online during the pandemic are usually the larger and richer ones.”
Despite the good news of new businesses, the economy still has a way to go. Fufa said that in the spirit of “we’re all in this together,” everyone has to do their part to end the pandemic.
“I do believe ending the pandemic could significantly solve the labor shortage problem, both in Maryville and nationally, in the short run,” Fufa said. “Addressing the other causes, may take some time.”