MONROE — Finding enough workers within the service industry, and in many other fields, has become a problem during the COVID-19 era.

More and more businesses are offering signing bonuses for new employees, even for entry level fast-food jobs.

The national nursing shortage wasn’t caused by COVID-19, but it has made conditions worse. The American Nurses Association recently sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking DHHS to declare the “ongoing nursing shortage a national crisis, reports Healthcare Finance. At Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C., a new Registered Nurse (RN) can expect up to a $20,000 sign-on bonus, according to pmcjobs.net.

Due to the pandemic, millions of Americans were laid off in 2020, and the nation’s unemployment rate jumped from 4% up to 15% in span of just a few months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since the spring of 2020, the unemployment rate has steadily declined, and BLS reports it is now down to 5.2% nationally.

But while more Americans are back to work, there remains a massive shortage of jobs that are either highly-specialized — like the medical field — or considered too menial. Extending unemployment benefits, and bolstering those benefits with federal funds, have allowed some Americans to bring in more money per month than when they were working. Those federal funds, however, came to an end in early September, and that could force some of the unemployed back into the job market.

A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who oversees a chain of more than a dozen restaurants in Charlotte and the Triad, speaking on the condition of anonymity, recently told The Enquirer-Journal his company has increased starting pay for dishwashers by more than 20% in the past year in an effort to lure workers — but he said increasing the starting pay for dishwashers up to $17 per hour hasn’t worked. He said their shortage of help has forced most of their restaurants to open late or close early because there isn’t enough staff to cover all the shifts. He said their problem finding enough workers is common within the restaurant industry.

Union County Public Schools (UCPS) is in need of more workers as well. The state’s sixth-largest district, which includes more than 50 schools and about 41,000 students, will hold a job fair on Thursday, Sept. 16.

The Union County Board of Education, at its Sept. 7 meeting, approved an increase in starting pay for bus drivers and nutrition services employees by more than 20%. The starting rate for bus drivers was increased from $13.79 an hour up to $16.75 per hour — a 21.5% increase — and school nutrition services employees are now starting at $15 per hour, up from $11.72 per hour — an increase of almost 28%.

With bonuses, bus drivers can earn up to $18 per hour, reports UCPS communications.

Full-time benefits are for employees who work at least 30 hours per week, and bus drivers are eligible for bonuses that are paid twice a year. On-site interviews will be held at the job fair; applicants are asked to bring two forms of identification. To apply for one of these positions online, go to https://www.applitrack.com/ucps/onlineapp/

The UCPS Job Fair is being held at 5 locations. Transportation will meet at 3319 Goldmine Road in Monroe (7 a.m. until 1 p.m.); Instructional will meet at Porter Ridge Middle School (9 a.m. until 2 p.m.); School Nutrition will meet at Central Academy of Technology and Arts (9 a.m. until 2 p.m.); After School Program will meet at CATA (9 a.m. until 2 p.m.); and Facilities will meet at Sun Valley Middle School (2 p.m. until 5 p.m.).