WorkPlace: Not enough people to fill 3,000 open jobs in Jefferson County

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Don’t tell Cheryl A. Mayforth people just don’t want to work anymore.

It’s a remark that gets Mrs. Mayforth, director of the Jefferson County Department of Employment and Training at The WorkPlace, stirred up.

She maintains that the north country’s job market has gone through many changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago, and that the market was changing before that.

There’s simply not enough people to fill the available jobs, she said. Jefferson County currently has 3,000 job openings without the 3,000 people to fill them.

“Where are the people?” she asked board members of the Watertown Local Development Corp. on Thursday.

During the past 10 years, 10% of the area’s workforce has been lost, she said, attributing much of that to baby boomers leaving the job market for “shorts, sandals and bright-colored shirts” in retirement.

Baby boomers are retiring at the age of 55 because they can afford to do so. Other north country residents are moving away, where they can get the same job but get paid more, she said.

The board of the local development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, asked Mrs. Mayforth to attend its meeting on Thursday morning to find out about what’s going on with the local job market and how members can help.

The local restaurant industry has been hit hard by the nation’s labor shortage even after the pandemic, she said.

In late November, she expected that 23 employees laid off from the local Denny’s restaurant would be contacting her office about job prospects for them.

They didn’t.

It was about the same time that Popeyes was looking to fill 60 jobs at its new restaurant, just down the street from Denny’s on outer Arsenal Street, she said.

And Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse and other restaurants along Arsenal Street’s restaurant row continue to have hiring signs hanging in their windows.

But the Chick-fil-A got the job done when the restaurant opened — between the old Denny’s and new Popeyes along Watertown’s restaurant row — in late October.

The franchise owner needed to fill 134 jobs for the new Chick-fil-A. They did so by hiring people from outside of the area, and paying shift supervisors $23 an hour, she said, calling it “moving up the ladder.”

“They know what they’re doing,” she said.

Businesses throughout the area’s job sectors, such as the health care industry, are also having hiring issues, she said.

Nurses are going out the back door at a higher rate than nurses entering the front door. That’s happening at the same time area nursing training programs are at full capacity, Mrs. Mayforth said.

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