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UP business owners struggle to fill thousands of jobs

Nearly all Upper Michigan counties still remain above pre-pandemic unemployment rates.
Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WLUC) - Upper Michigan businesses are facing a new challenge with looser coronavirus restrictions and the summer tourism months just weeks away. Many are now having a hard time finding employees.

“It’s been difficult for them at times to keep their doors open and have the staff to do that,” said Tim Hyde, U.P. Michigan Works Workforce Services Manager.

A new job list from U.P. Michigan Works shows, there are at least 3,700 jobs open right now in Upper Michigan. Ranging from an administrative assistant, account executives, mechanics and entry level positions like retail sales associate.

“You name it’s out there,” said Hyde. “There are a lot of manufacturing jobs.”

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Open jobs despite high unemployment. 10 of the U.P’s 15 counties (Keweenaw, Ontonagon, Iron, Baraga, Alger, Schoolcraft, Delta, Mackinac, Chippewa and Luce) rank in the top half of the state for unemployment. State data from March shows only Marquette, Dickinson, Menominee, Gogebic and Houghton counties have an unemployment rate under 6 percent. Nearly all counties are still above pre-pandemic levels.

“Some employees understandably have a concern about their health. I think the enhanced benefits from the federal government make it more difficult for employers to recruit employees,” said Marty Fittante, InvestUP CEO.

While many of the listed jobs did not provide a starting pay, those that did:

“Almost half were at about 15 dollars an hour or greater,” said Fittante.

Fittante says some jobs do require certain experience. However, most employers are willing to work with someone who doesn’t have experience.

“They’re willing to train anybody that’s willing to work,” said Fittante. “So if you have that soft skill set and you have a desire to get to work, boy they are willing to put you to work and teach you the rest.”

Fittante says part of the problem for employers is a lack of a young workforce. Data from InvestUP shows the U.P. has lost more than 45 percent of its K-12 population in the last 50 years. Nearly 30 percent of that has come in the last 20 years.

Trends for K-12 enrollment in the U.P.
Trends for K-12 enrollment in the U.P.(WLUC)

“That suggests to us that population is staying but getting older and we are losing that workforce population that is so important,” said Fittante.

Fittante says until the youth population stops declining, the U.P. will continue to struggle to fill jobs. Fittante says the four colleges in the Upper Peninsula could play an important role in fixing that.

“We’re grateful they are engaged with us to try and figure out how to build the talent pipeline,” said Fittante. “In fact, we are working with them right now on a proposal for the state to try and help define some funding to build that pipeline out.”

Fittante also notes that it is incredibly competitive for employers to hire right now with remote working giving employees more options.

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