Hard to Fill: Jobs that need workers

V1 Staff

OK, eager job seekers: Have you got the skills to pay the bills? Apparently not, at least as far as many potential employers are concerned. Large shares of employers nationally and in western Wisconsin say that they’re having trouble filling open jobs because applicants don’t meet the necessary requirements. Whether you call it a skills gap, a talent shortage, or just bad luck, it’s a problem for the economy.

Every problem presents an opportunity, of course, and in this case the opportunity is for those job hunters willing to burnish their skills and adapt themselves to a changing labor market. That means setting yourself up with a toolbox of skills that are adaptable to multiple jobs, rather than planning on finding – and keeping – a single occupation for your whole working life, says Beth Mathison, director of business development in west-central Wisconsin for Manpower, an international staffing firm.

85% of Chippewa Valley employers who responded to a recent survey said they had difficulty filling
some positions. Roughly half of these jobs require
a bachelor’s degree or higher, although more
than 30 percent were open to those with only
a high school diploma.

Manpower unveiled its annual Talent Shortage Survey in June, which identified the 10 hardest jobs for U.S. employers to fill: skilled trade workers, restaurant and hotel staff, sales representatives, teachers, drivers, accounting and finance staff, laborers, IT staff, engineers, and nurses. While the survey offered no empirical local data, Mathison said her experience indicates the hard-to-fill jobs are very similar in the Chippewa Valley, with the exception of restaurant and hotel staff. (She speculates those jobs may be easier to fill here because of the abundance of college students looking for part-time service-sector gigs.)

In western Wisconsin, Mathison says, there seem to be many openings for people in the skilled trades (everything from welders to quality technicians to CNC machine operators) as well as for laborers (such as entry-level industrial jobs). And while jobs like this don’t often require four-year degrees, they still require skill and attention to detail, she says. “We don’t see as much demand for that limited-thinking, limited-skill kind of position,” she notes.

Beyond specific technical training, employers facing talent shortages typically are looking for job applicants with “soft” workplace skills, Mathison says, including reliability, dedication, and the ability to solve problems. In fact, in the national study, 39 percent of employers said they were having trouble filling jobs because such workplace skills were lacking. (The largest share, 47 percent, said lack of technical skill was the problem.)

Anxious Employers

The persistent skills gap – 40 percent of U.S. employers surveyed by Manpower reported having trouble filling jobs – has led to changing attitudes among some employers, Mathison says. No longer can they assume, as they may have a few years ago, that they will have a profusion of qualified applicants for every job. Instead, she says, some employers are dividing up job descriptions and work tasks differently to bring less-skilled workers on board. Others are providing more training to workers after they hire them. The challenge for employers is daunting: According to the survey, 56 percent of respondents say the shortage of talent has a high or medium impact on their ability to meet clients’ needs.

The talent shortage seems even more acute on the local level, at least according to research by the Narrowing the Skills Gap Regional Taskforce, an ad hoc group formed to address the problem. According to the taskforce, 85 percent of Chippewa Valley employers who responded to a recent survey said they had difficulty filling some positions. Roughly half of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, although more than 30 percent were open to those with only a high school diploma. And the ongoing retirement of the baby boom generation continues to impact the region’s workforce: Fully two-thirds of employers who responded to the survey said the impending retirement of current employees is a concern.

On the other hand, the same retirements are also reason for excitement for people who are looking for work. According to data gathered by the taskforce, in many professions – such as protective services, education, customer service, and welding/cutting – the number of replacement jobs outnumbers the number of newly created jobs in the Chippewa Valley.

Beyond specific technical training, employers facing talent shortages typically are looking for job applicants with “soft” workplace skills, says Beth Mathison of Manpower, including reliability, dedication, and the ability to solve problems. In fact, in the national study, 39 percent of employers said they were having trouble filling jobs because such workplace skills were lacking.

So with all this in mind, what are your best bets for seeking a job in the Chippewa Valley? There will be more openings in nursing than in any other category, according to the above-cited data: Between 2010 and 2020, an estimated 146 nursing jobs will open annually in Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa counties. Next on the list of abundant openings are truck driving (128), protective services (110), customer service (86), elementary education (66), retail managers (61), and sales representatives (57).

Skills Gap Report

Seeing help-wanted ads doesn’t do much good, however, if you don’t have the right education and experience on your résumé. The gap between having hope and having a job prompted the task force of western Wisconsin groups led by the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp. – which included many businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, and workforce agencies – to release a report last fall titled Narrowing the Skills Gap: A Regional Workforce Initiative. Employers surveyed for the report identified jobs that were hard to recruit for in the region, many of which overlapped with the occupations identified in the nationwide Manpower survey: engineers, nurses, welders and diesel technicians (both skilled trades), and a number of computer-related fields, including programmers and information systems workers.

The report identified five major reasons for the gap between the skills of the local workforce and the jobs that need to be filled: those entering the workforce don’t always have the critical skills they need; information about local labor trends isn’t easily available to consumers (for example, it’s hard for students to use this data to choose career paths); communication and coordination efforts (such as those between businesses and educators) aren’t effectively aligned; and targeted resources (including money) are needed to fill the gap.

The report also proposed a five-point plan to address these shortcomings: gathering local labor marking information more quickly; communicating that data better; reducing barriers for economically challenged students (such as microgrants for tuition, child care, and transportation); developing a regional strategy to recruit workers who have skills not taught locally; and knocking down impediments to getting students (and adults) to explore careers and gain work experience.

Like gaining job skills themselves, achieving these goals won’t be easy. However, the skills gap taskforce is already working to implement its recommendations. Among other things, employers will meet this month to discuss recruiting talent to the region, and a new website will be launched in late August to increase interactions between students, teachers, and businesses, says Brian Doudna, executive director of the Eau Claire Area EDC.

So, What are the Hardest Jobs to Fill?

Nationwide
1. Skilled Trade Workers
2. Restaurant and Hotel Staff
3. Sales Representatives
4. Teachers
5. Drivers
6. Accounting and Finance Staff
7. Laborers
8. IT Staff
9. Engineers
10. Nurses

Source: Nationwide survey by Manpower Inc., 2014

Chippewa Valley
1. CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Machine Operators
2. Computer Programmers
3. Diesel Technicians
4. Engineers (Mechanical and Electrical)
5. Health Care Procedure Coders
6. Information Systems
7. Nurses
8. Welders

Source: Narrowing the Skills Gap report, October 2013

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