In Chester County, where the unemployment rate is down to 2.6 percent, the lowest in the state, workers are hard to come by, especially in the transportation and agriculture industries.
“Recent data suggests that for every person looking for a job, there are two to three jobs available,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, chief executive of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry.
He said there are employment opportunities in every sector — finance, nurses, technology and software developers, customer service — but agriculture and transportation are seeing the greatest demand.
There were 23,532 jobs posted online in Chester County in April, according to Patrick Bokovitz, director of the Chester County Department of Community Development. Postings rose in March and April compared with previous months, but the increases were consistent with those of April 2018. April increases could be related to the timing of college graduations, Bokovitz said.
The transportation and material-moving industry saw the greatest number of jobs available in April at 3,727, according to the county’s online job posting analysis using data from EMSI, a labor market analytics site that pulls data from online job posting sites.
Hiring truck drivers has been an ongoing issue for the transportation industry, as companies like Amazon ship out more goods and as fewer Americans desire the long hours and little family time that come with being a driver.
Transportation jobs require short-term on-the-job training and a high school diploma, according to Chester’s 2018 High Priority Occupations data, and the average annual income is $37,380.
One of the companies with the greatest number of online job postings is the Vanguard Group, the investment giant in Malvern. It has 340 open positions in the Greater Philadelphia area, according to a Vanguard spokesperson. These positions are represented by 195 online job postings, which often result in multiple hires per post — 185 of the postings are based in the company’s Chester County locations.
The company has seen a rise in tech openings, according to the spokesperson, but filling positions in data analytics and technical leadership has been difficult. Positions such as senior auditors, tax consultants, and financial analysts populate the company’s postings.
The jobs with the most openings and the highest pay include insurance sales agents, with about 46 annual openings and an average annual pay of $123,660, while dental hygienists, with 12 annual openings had an average pay of $88,430. Construction supervisors see 18 open positions per year and make $85,310, while sales representatives also see about 90 open positions per year and make an average $81,600.
Chester County’s largest industry is agriculture. About 24 percent of its total land area is being used to grow field crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans, according to its website. The industry has been seeing a labor shortage as fewer people want to accept the industry’s long hours and as immigration crackdowns remove a key group in its workforce.
“There is an excess of 1,000 full-time permanent positions" in agriculture, said Ciarrocchi.
Mushrooms are the name of the game here — the county’s 60 mushroom farms contribute an estimated $2.17 billion to the local economy and provide half of the mushrooms consumed in the United States each year. But, the industry is seeing a massive shortage in workers.
“For probably the last five years, we have been running a deficit of labor,” said Peter Gray, grower manager of Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square. In Chester County, Phillips Mushroom Farms employs about 600 people and Gray said that the company could use 30 to 40 more people, mostly harvesters.
The company has five farms in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Last year, it harvested about 65 million pounds of the six mushroom species it farms.
Mushrooms are mainly grown in stacks of wooden beds indoors, making it a year-round crop. Gray said that while migratory workers on temporary working visas provide work for seasonal crops like blueberries, they are not helpful for mushrooms because of its yearlong season.
Without enough harvesters, it’s hard for a company to expand or even harvest its crops in time. Even 12 hours can make a difference between a mushroom being grade one or two, which can cut the value of the crop in half, Gray said.
“Solving this problem is not about bringing in 100 people for a weekend," Ciarrocchi said. “It’s about bringing in people who would become full-time employees and work as a career.”
Gray said that harvesting jobs has no education or previous experience requirements — in-house training is provided. He said that a skilled harvester can make upwards of $1,000 per week, but that salary depends on how long someone is with the company. The average annual wage of a farmworker in Chester County is $34,200, according to Chester County’s 2018 High Priority Occupations data.
The county’s 2.6 percent unemployment rate is the lowest in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Montgomery County’s rate is 2.9 percent and Bucks County’s is 3.2 percent. The 759-square-mile Chester County has more than 500,000 people, who are 85.3 percent white, according to the September 2018 census. The median household income is $96,656 and only 3.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.
Jobs in the manufacturing industry are also becoming increasingly hard to fill as fewer people are interested in learning the trades, noted David Moser, owner and chief executive of DFT Inc., an international valve manufacturer in Exton.
“We are always looking to hire people," Moser said. "We never seem to ever be completely full. It’s been true for a long time.”
The 75-person facility is short one machinist and one assembler at the moment, Moser said, but people with the required skills are scarce. Assembler positions require little experience and pay $14.50 to $20 per hour, while machinists require more experience and training, and pay $21 to $38 per hour.
Moser said that the company’s hiring needs will continue as his most highly skilled employees retire in the coming years. They will be the hardest to replace, he said. “Community colleges offer courses, but not many students are interested in that career.”
Employers with the greatest number of online job postings in Chester County:
· Anthem Inc.
· CRST International Inc.
· CVS Health Corp.
· Jobspring Partners
· Penn Medicine
· Randstad Holding
· The Vanguard Group Inc.
· Tower Health
· Travelers Healthcare
· Workbridge Associates