It’s a problem that keeps getting worse.

Business leaders and representatives from across the Garden State participated in a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss what is turning into a growing labor shortage emergency in New Jersey, and what steps should be taken to address it.

The Zoom meeting, hosted by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, included representatives from childcare, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, banking, catering, landscaping, dentists and restaurants.

Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of NJBIA, said people who genuinely cannot return to work should have the safety net of unemployment insurance, but for those who are able to return to the workforce, unemployment should no longer be an option.

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“There are too many examples of people who are unfortunately taking advantage of the system and we need accountability,” she said. “We need a system that is balanced right now that helps the employer while protecting the employees who need the benefit.”

Several business leaders during the town hall said workers collecting unemployment had indicated they would return to work if they could be paid in cash so they could continue to collect benefits.

Siekerka said one step that can be taken to address what’s happening is for the Department of Labor One Stop employment centers to be re-opened.

“What they do is they help to match skills with jobs,” said Siekerka. “It also creates accountability when people show up in the centers.”

She also noted “we need the childcare restrictions lifted so we can open capacity so our children have safe places to be right now and through the summer, so we can get our workforce back to work.’

She stressed unemployment rules that require work searches to be documented should immediately be reinstated and employers need to be able to get a response when they report a problem.

“We have advocated for a portal on the DOL website where employers can report where people are available but not returning, where people are applying for interviews and not showing up."

Denise Beckson, the vice president of Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Water Parks, said while the initial goal for her business was to survive the COVID pandemic, the new goal has become to survive the New Jersey recovery that is now underway.

“We have never seen this type of staffing struggle that we’ve seen over this last year,” she said. “this is unprecedented. It’s nearly impossible.”

She said the mounting labor shortage is bad news for many businesses, including Morey’s Piers.

“A staffing struggle means we may not be able to fully open our facilities, thereby not fully recognizing our revenue potential as we work to overcome the staggering shortfalls from last season," she said.

Siekerka said one idea worth exploring is creating tax incentives for businesses to increase salaries.

She suggested Gov. Murphy launch a return to work communications campaign.

“If we hold folks accountable, those who deserve the benefits will continue to receive, while those who are available will be empowered to come back to work," she said.

At the beginning of this week the governor said the worker shortage was “a passing problem” and that people collecting unemployment deserve the benefits they are receiving.

He also said there have been no discussions about reinstating the Department of Labor unemployment insurance rules that require job seekers to document where they have actually looked for work.

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