Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Wilmington doesn’t have a jobs problem, it has two

Wilmington has white-collar jobs, and plenty of service industry jobs, but little in between. That's one of two problems in the local job scene. (Port City Daily photo / FILE PHOTO)
Wilmington has white-collar jobs, and plenty of service industry jobs, but little in between. That’s one of two problems in the local job scene. (Port City Daily FILE PHOTO)

WILMINGTON — The Cape Fear area has plenty of jobs – that’s not the problem.

The problem, one of two that are affecting the region, is a lack for what Corey Lewis calls “sustainable” jobs.

Lewis, who worked as a corporate recruiter for years, founded Cape Fear Jobs last year; the company features only local employers, and offers a range of services – some for free – for local job seekers.

Over the last year Lewis has worked with both sides of the employment scene. It’s given him a chance to see the region’s issues close up, including the lack of sustainable jobs.

“Sustainable jobs are ones with a range of positions, the ones where you could probably start in an entry level position but work your way up,” Lewis said. “We just don’t have them. We’ve got lower income jobs in one sector, namely hospitality, and we’ve got higher income jobs in tech and places like that. There’s nothing in between and it’s really, really hard to jump that gap.”

What Lewis has seen at Cape Fear Jobs echoes what Adam Jones has seen in hard data on the region. Jones, a professor of economics at University of North Carolina Wilmington, pointed to two things: the national decrease in manufacturing jobs due to automation and the high level of lower income, part-time hospitality jobs in the Cape Fear Region.

“There is a trend nationally that the mid-level employment opportunities are disappearing.  Non-routine manual labor, customer service, is hard to automate and non-routine high-skill work, creative-problem solving type jobs, are hard to automate. But anything that is repetitive is being automated,” Jones said.

The ratio of different industry sector jobs in the three-county area, versus the national averages; data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, arranged by Professor Adam Jones at UNCW. (Port City Daily photo / ADAM JONES)
The ratio of different industry sector jobs in the three-county area, versus the national averages; data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, arranged by Professor Adam Jones at UNCW. (Port City Daily photo / ADAM JONES)

The trend of disappearing manufacturing jobs has hit Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties harder than nationally. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled by Jones, the tri-county area has about half the national level of manufacturing jobs.

The manufacturing jobs that remain in New Hanover pay on average $81,946; compare that with an average of $16,044 for leisure and hospitality jobs – these are jobs in hotels, restaurants and other highly-seasonal and frequently part-time industries (an average of 26 hours a week, according to Jones’ data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The tri-county area has about 50 percent more than the national average of these part-time and seasonal jobs.

Corey Lewis, founder and president of Cape Fear Jobs, has seen the problems of the Wilmington job scene first hand. (Port City Daily photo / COREY LEWIS)
Corey Lewis, founder and president of Cape Fear Jobs, has seen the problems of the Wilmington job scene first hand. (Port City Daily photo/COREY LEWIS)

But the gap between income brackets, the lack of “sustainable” jobs paying $40-80,000, is only one of the region’s problems. The other one, according to Lewis, is the disconnect between employers and potential employees.

“We do have jobs, but – and this is true of big companies and small business – those employers are stuck in an old mindset,” he said. “They’ll advertise on national job sites or, god forbid, on Craigslist. There’s no connection to the local community.”

Lewis’s company offers to do just that, but he said his critique of job scene isn’t just a sales pitch.

“I do have a business to run, of course. But if I just wanted to make money, I’d charge more than $10 for a job posting – that’s less than Craigslist. I wouldn’t be offering free help to underprivileged employees,” he said. “My goal, at the end of the day, is to bring people together. Because right now there’s a disconnect, a huge disconnect.”

Through his work as a recruiter, and his current role running Cape Fear Jobs, Lewis says he’s consistently seen between 10,000 and 12,000 job seekers at any given time in the Cape Fear Region; at the same time he sees about 3,000 jobs open every day in Wilmington alone.

“There are jobs, and there are workers – qualified people, I’ve seen the resumes – but positions go unfilled for months,” Lewis said.

Lewis said “stubborn corporate mindsets,” are a significant part of this disconnect. He said he’d spoken to several large corporations that used in-house human resources to hire from outside the region, posting open positions on national job-search sites.

Lewis suggested that the solution to this second problem – disconnection – might also be a solution for the first problem – a lack of sustainable jobs.

“Until people get past that mindset roadblock, which means a local community that brings employers and employees together, you can’t fix the problem,” Lewis said. “You build a community like that, then you can say to a large corporation, one that would bring sustainable jobs, into area, ‘you should come here, there’s a community you can tap into and get staffed up, from shipping clerk to administrator.’ It would certainly make the region more attractive.”

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