JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The U.S. Department of Labor shows that unemployment claims have fallen to their lowest levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, businesses across the country and the Volunteer State continue to struggle with hiring employees.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports there are more than 500,000 available jobs in the state – with nearly 500 of those openings being posted on Thursday alone.

During his trip to East Tennessee State, News Channel 11 spoke with Governor Bill Lee about the hiring struggles in-state.

“We certainly don’t need to be paying people to stay out of the workforce,” he said. “But, more than that we need to be equipping people with skills that will allow them to enter the workforce in a new way.”

“We’ve got to do everything we can to equip folks to do the jobs, and we have a half-million jobs in this state that are unfilled right now – we’ve got to equip folks to be able to fill those positions,” Governor Lee continued.

Tennessee hopes to take a long-term step forward in adding jobs this coming Monday. Governor Lee has called the Tennessee General Assembly for a special session to address funding for a Ford Motor Company plant planned at the Memphis Regional Megasite. The governor’s proclamation states the plant will create 5,800 new jobs on site, with the potential to create 27,000 new jobs that will either directly or indirectly support the Megasite’s operations.

“We see companies coming to Tennessee — significant, major global companies — because they see a commitment to workforce. Nevertheless, we have a significant challenge.”