Drugs cast hiring pall on job market

Published 12:53 am Friday, August 12, 2011

Chief Mick Reed scans paperwork Thursday afternoon at the Washington Police Department. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a two-part story.


Some Beaufort County businesses are having trouble finding job applicants who can pass drug tests, two local officials said.

“It is universal to just about all the employers in Beaufort County,” said Patrick Oswalt, manager of the N.C. Employment Security Commission’s Washington office.

“I’ve had some complaints in passing, some in frustration, from most employers,” Oswalt said.

He said one or two of these complaints surface in conversations with companies’ staffs at least once a month.

Applicants’ abilities to pass drug tests or overcome past drug use also show up at the Washington Police Department.

“I can tell you that a significant percentage of applicants for the City of Washington Police Department, it becomes a hurdle — either past history or the inability to pass a drug test,” said Chief Mick Reed.

Reed had no hard numbers, but he said the department tends to do background checks on three or four applicants for a given job.

“That is, in itself, an indication because it used to be if we had one opening the process would identify one potential applicant, and we would not feel the need in doing multiple background (checks),” he explained.

Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer, echoed Reed’s and Oswalt’s reports.

“The plants are having a hard time finding qualified labor,” Thompson said, pointing to drugs as a barrier to employment.

“I would encourage anybody that’s serious about working in manufacturing to avoid drugs,” he said. “I’d hate to import somebody in (from outside Beaufort County) just because they can pass a drug test and have the skills.”

But the true scope of the drug problem is hard to come by.

The N.C. Department of Labor doesn’t collect data from private companies on the results of their drug-testing efforts, related spokesman Neal O’Briant.

“What we would get would be complaints from individuals if a company did not follow procedures outlined in the law for drug testing,” O’Briant said. “We have very few drug-testing complaints.”

Last year, just nine of about 6,000 wage-and-hour complaints were driven by concerns about how companies conduct drug testing under state law, he shared.

Reed sees the problem up close, and he thinks part of what’s going on here may be generational.

“There are things that are generally accepted in a culture that we’re dealing with now that was not necessarily as permissible or as prevalent (before),” the chief said.

See more in Saturday’s edition.