Many jobs, few workers are a constant struggle in Kitsap
In the three years since COVID shut down the economy, Kitsap County is still looking for ways to fill the many vacancies in its labor market.
The need for employees was evident at the Kitsap County job fair on April 11, where applicants were greeted with a plethora of full-time, part-time and seasonal positions to choose from. Staff from Parks, Public Works, the sheriff’s office and others spoke with those looking for work, offering guidance and encouraging attendees to apply.
“It’s just a great opportunity for this kind of thing because it helps the community,” said Jonathan Ryder, a job fair attendee looking to get out of a month-long stint without a job. “I have a family friend here who works for the Parks Department in this area, and he used to say, ‘If you want a job, come to this fair. “
Outreach is important for events like the job fair, said Carol Mackey, human resources program supervisor, but the numbers are still far from pre-pandemic levels. She explained that some jobs that normally reach 500 applicants in a couple of weeks are now lucky to get 60.
Mackey said the number of open positions could head higher again. “We have a record number of employees retiring because they weren’t sure they wanted to retire during COVID,” she said. “So we have this huge number of people leaving the workforce, and we never seem to have enough people entering.”
This comes as the county’s unemployment rate is slowly growing, coming in at less than 6% in February compared to 3.8% in September. In addition, attempts to appeal to the younger generations to work also proved difficult, with Mackey saying that school districts in Kitsap were unable to provide transportation for some students to the fair, citing a shortage of bus drivers.
James Williams, a 17-year-old student at Barker Creek Community School, claimed that the school wasn’t even pointing him in the right direction. “I found out on my own. None of the schools told me.”
It’s something the county will work to rectify in the future, McKee said, because one of the main goals of these fairs is to make county jobs attractive to Kitsap youth. “We want to do this outreach because it’s really important for them to understand that government is a resource for your career,” she said. “It’s just that the many different types of jobs and the diverse types of jobs that we have, people don’t understand.”
HR Director Natalie Marshall pointed to a number of ways each department works to attract those looking for jobs. The sheriff’s office allows people to try on drunken goggles while trying to walk in a straight line. Other booths showed video and photo demonstrations, and the new gifts of fidget spinners and pens were myriad.
Marshall said that every show tries to find “anything that catches people’s eye, but also is kind of relatable to you. Whether it’s your industry, or the jobs you’ve offered, or anything like that, that makes it really attractive or applicable.”