Utah labor shortage affects mostly lower skilled workers

Oct 4, 2021, 7:00 AM
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, file photo help wanted signs for servers and cooks at Nema...
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, file photo help wanted signs for servers and cooks at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa are displayed along route 40 at the entrance to the resort in Farmington, Pa. U.S. employers advertised more jobs but hired fewer workers in July, sending mixed signals about a job market in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The Labor Department said Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, that the number of U.S. job postings on the last day of July rose to 6.6 million from 6 million at the end of June. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — The ongoing labor shortage affecting Utah is affecting employers of the least-skilled and lowest-paid workers in the state. 

Employers struggle to hire low skill workers

One side of the labor market is feeling the heaviest impact of the labor shortage right now. 

“It’s not the architecture firms that are running at half-speed or closing down, it’s the restaurants,” said Mark Knold, chief economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services. 

Knold explains the hospitality industry is suffering the most and it’s all related to the pandemic. 

“It’s those jobs with the most customer interaction where you end up with trepidation,” said Knold. 

Lower-skilled and lower-educated workers lost jobs more often than those with higher education and higher skills. Knold says many of them are anxious about returning to work where they have to be around more people. 

Furthermore, he says the labor market is not responding quickly to the sudden reopening of the economy. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the market for higher-skilled jobs is still tight. Many of these industries were not as heavily disrupted by the pandemic, according to Knold. 

Utah labor has higher wage growth

Despite it being harder for businesses to hire lower-skilled workers, it’s that end of the spectrum seeing the most wage growth. 

Employers are raising pay to attract more applicants and effectively lowering the ongoing wage gap. 

“It’s probably a good thing. It’s a long-time coming,” said Knold. 

Meanwhile, pay on the higher-skilled side of the economy is growing much slower. 

Utah doing better than much of the country

Knold believes it is a great time to be looking for a job, especially for those with less education. 

“We actually have an economy here in the state of Utah that is bigger now than it was before the pandemic,” Knold said. “Very few, if any, other states can say that. They’re still trying to just get back to the levels they were at before the pandemic hit.”

He anticipates Utah’s job economy will rebound over the coming months. Knold also anticipates wages will continue to grow. 

“That in of itself will draw more people into the job market,” he said. 

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Utah labor shortage affects mostly lower skilled workers