Where did all the workers go, and how will Triangle employers get them back?

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — At Trek Bicycle Shop in Raleigh, a sign on the front door indicates the store is hiring. But manager Matt McGrain warns, recruiting for new positions is competitive.

The retailer off Wake Forest Road joined other Trek locations in 2020, shifting to a minimum hourly wage of $15 for all employees.

McGrain said it’s made a significant difference.

“It’s helped with staffing, recruiting and really helps you build your staff of people who are really stoked to come to work and really want to be here,” he said Tuesday.

The fact the store is escaping staffing shortages is unique.

All over the Triangle – like in most parts of the country – a seemingly endless list of companies and employers are looking for workers and trying to find new and creative ways to attract staff.

Hiring incentives continue to grow from Ross offering sign-on bonuses in the hundreds of dollars, to WakeMed and Durham Police in the thousands, to Designer Shoe Warehouse and Target offering various forms of education-related assistance.

Wake County Schools have been discussing potential bonus pay for school bus drivers, amid recent driver failures to show up for work as a protest over pay and workload.

But what is behind the worker shortage?

Michael Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, said workers got more training and, thus, changed their expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people took it upon themselves to say, ‘You know what when this is over I don’t want to go back to that low paying job I had,’” Walden said.

Walden expects, long-term, employers may need to innovate in ways that require less staffing – or raise pay.

“One reaction of businesses who can’t find workers is to say, ‘Well, I have to pay more, or I have to improve my benefits,’” he said, cautioning higher pay likely will mean higher prices for customers.

Meanwhile, at the Trek store, McGrain said higher wages have translated to a more reliable workforce.

“It’s helped us handpick our staff of people that live up to our mission,” he said. “It’s been great and it raises morale.”

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