Things are getting better. That’s the official word from Gillette Workforce Center Manager Rick Mansheim, who says that from an employment standpoint, the local economy is improving but not up to speed quite yet.
For the week ending July 4, the Department of Workforce Services website said that Campbell County had 92 new unemployment claims, down from 132 the week prior. By contrast, during the same week a year ago, the county had 429 initial unemployment claims, while last week, 1,735 people continued their existing claims compared to 1,743 the previous week.
Overall, the unemployment rate in the county stood at 9.5% in June, only slightly higher than the 8.8% reported statewide, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 10.5% in April. The downward trend is welcome news according to Mansheim.
Jobs, too, are increasing in the county, according to Mansheim, but not necessarily in areas that were previously thriving.
“There has definitely been a hiring increase in some sectors, particularly in healthcare, retail and food service,” Mansheim said. “I’m also getting calls from companies in search of CDL drivers.”
Mansheim has also seen an increase in people seeking training in new skills areas. He said the department will pay for training for people interested in pursuing new career areas through Next-Gen Sector Partnerships that exist between Workforce Services and local and state colleges and training centers.
“I have one former coal miner now in nursing school,” he said. “Another is already working as an RN, and we helped one become a special education teacher a few years ago.”
Mining, oil and gas, however, haven’t been part of the improved statistics as of yet according to Mansheim.
“That’s still pretty flat,” he said. “But there are more jobs now in different sectors than there were a few weeks ago.”
The dropping unemployment numbers are particularly significant in light of the fact that the additional $600 per week unemployment benefit made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is scheduled to expire after July unless extended by Congress.
“If there’s a plan to renew the extra benefit amount, I haven’t seen anything about it,” he said. “But it is still possible to apply for an additional 13 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits.”
For some residents like Diana B. of Gillette, who chose to give only her first name and last initial, they aren’t quite ready to move on, despite the shutdown. Diana was laid off in April from her job at a local kennel. COVID-19, she said, caused business to slow to the point that keeping her on just wasn’t feasible.
“I love my job there,” she said Monday. “And they’ve been very good to me even after the layoff. They’ve still tried to help me.”
She said the company has told her she would be brought back when business improved. She’s lucky, she said. Her husband is still working. Still, she hopes to get a call back soon.
Mansheim is sympathetic.
The issue, he said, is that it’s hard for somebody who has had a relatively high paying skilled job in one industry to decide to change paths and pursue a different career when the hope is that things will improve and they’ll get called back to their old job.
“There are jobs,” he said. “It just may not be the job you had.”
Anyone interested in learning about job or training opportunities, contact Gillette Workforce Center at (307) 682-9313 or view jobs on their website.