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Abilene’s labor market challenges will require hard work to improve

Workforce Solutions holds a job fair at the Taylor County Expo Center.
Samantha Gerber
Photo from Workforce Solutions job fair at the Taylor County Expo Center in 2022.

Texas ended 2022 by surpassing pre-COVID employment levels for the first time. At 3.2%, Abilene’s unemployment rate is a tenth of a point better than the statewide average. But those strong employment numbers may look different to hiring-managers. Since early in the pandemic, employers have found hiring to be a struggle, a problem that’s not unique to Abilene or Texas.

The Abilene Chamber of Commerce published a blog last week titled “Admitting the Baby is Ugly,” addressing the issues in the city’s labor market, and stressing that it’ll take more than meetings to solve the issues.

Lauren Kocurek, the chamber’s Vice President of Operations and Communications, says there’s a reshuffling of the labor market. The tech segment has seen significant layoffs nationwide, while other sectors are struggling to find workers. In Abilene food service and finance voice the biggest need. Kocurek says employers face a perfect storm in trying to fill jobs, “There’s childcare challenges. There’s low birthrates in the millennials. There’s a post pandemic new reality, where people really want that more flexible, work-from-home lifestyle. So there’s a lot of different pieces that are being thrown at this challenge.”

Kocurek says Abilene has a lot to offer, as a place to start and grow a career, but it will take a concerted effort on multiple fronts to solve this puzzle. The chamber has been working to help connect agencies that help people who may have barriers to employment to the business community in new ways. The chamber will also be starting a digital campaign in an effort to reach Gen Z with opportunities. And they recently delivered their legislative agenda to Austin, while the list reflects a wide range of priorities, Kocurek says at the end of the day everything points back to workforce.

Next week we’ll get our first look at the state’s jobs market for this year, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases Texas employment numbers for January.

Heather Claborn joined KACU as news director in January 2018. She oversees daily newscast and feature reporting and works with KACU’s news anchors to develop newscasts. She also conducts two-way interviews, reports for newscast and feature stories and maintains the station’s social media and website content. In 2020, Claborn helped staff develop the daily newsletter that is delivered by email.