FRONT ROYAL — The Warren County Department of Social Services will host a job fair in August with the hopes of mitigating what some have called a “labor shortage.”

The job fair, which will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 5 in the Health and Human Services Complex Gymnasium at 465 W. 15th St. in Front Royal, is the first such event the Department of Social Services has held, according to department Director Jon Martz.

“You can’t really go through town without seeing help wanted signs everywhere,” Martz said. “We figure there’s got to be a way to connect the people who need jobs and the people who have (openings). We hope we can be that connector.”

About 12 local employers are already confirmed for the event, including Dominion Power, Lowe’s, Sysco and Anderson Windows. Martz said he hopes to secure more employers, including small businesses.

According to a June National Federation of Independent Business study, 46% of small business owners reported having job openings they could not fill. Finding qualified workers remains a problem for small businesses as 89% of those hiring or trying to hire reported few or no “qualified” applicants for their open positions in June.

Martz began as director of Social Services in Warren County last September and has 13 years of experience in the Virginia DSS. Over the last nine months, Martz said he’s seen plenty of positives as the county continues pushing through the pandemic.

“I’ve really seen a community that is looking to get out and return to normalcy as quickly as possible,” he said. “They’re eager to connect and do things within the community. This is just our way of trying to help that out.”

One of the biggest changes since the onset of COVID-19 has been how unemployment benefits are handled, which may have an impact on the return of some able-bodied workers to the labor force. Additional payouts to help ease the sting of unemployment issues were approved by Congress and President Joe Biden. Most recently, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in March, renewed the federal boost to jobless benefits, giving recipients extra aid on top of state assistance until Sept. 6.

Since March 21, 2020, more than 1.7 million initial jobless claims have been made in Virginia.

For the week ending July 3, there were 18 initial unemployment claims in Warren County, which is far less than the county’s peak of 605 in the week ending April 4, 2020.

Warren County hasn’t had more than 100 initial weekly jobless claims since May 23, 2020, yet many employers are still looking to fill numerous positions.

“Pretty much, employers are just looking for anyone who can come in and do some hard work,” Martz said. “I think it would be vitally important to have as much community support as possible for these job fairs. The businesses are really eager to meet with people. If we can show the businesses that the community is out here ready to work and ready to come out, we can have more of these in the future.”

Businesses looking to sign up for the job fair can contact Martz or Warren County Community Liaison Michelle Smeltzer at the Department of Social Services by calling 540-635-3430. Job seekers aren’t required to register and can simply show up on the day of the job fair.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com