Job market highlights the need for skilled labor
OKLAHOMA’S jobless rate in February was 4 percent, down from 4.8 percent in the same month last year and a decrease from the 4.3 percent in January. That’s good news, except that employers are having a devil of a time finding people to fill vacant positions.
In Oklahoma, as across the country, jobs are staying vacant because not enough qualified workers are applying. The Wall Street Journal used a recent Page 1 story to explore the trend, noting that particularly in many parts of the Midwest, “Employers, especially in more rural areas, are finding that there are just too few workers.”
The national unemployment rate in March remained at 4.1 percent for the sixth straight month. However, only 103,000 jobs were added, which is about half of what many analysts were expecting.
The business publication Barron’s wrote recently that across the country, “it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good help” in industries ranging from trucking and construction to oil drilling and manufacturing. And that takes a toll.
“Oil and gas stay in the ground because there aren’t enough workers to extract it,” the article said. “Homes aren’t built because builders can’t find enough laborers. In Maine this winter, the state couldn’t find enough people to drive snowplows.”
A Fox Business story from January cited a report from the Associated General Contractors of America showing 75 percent of contractors want to expand in 2018, but half of them were struggling to fill positions for skilled and salaried workers. Barron’s noted that Census Bureau projections show the overall U.S. population growing faster than the workforce through 2030 and perhaps later. In the next 10 years, says the head researcher at New York-based Fundstrat Global Advisors, the nation faces a shortage of 8.2 million workers.
Jennifer Monies, executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, an arm of the State Chamber that works to align the state’s education system with workforce needs, said chamber members regularly note the dearth of available help.
“Whether it’s at board meetings or other events, we ask all the time, ‘How many of you have empty jobs to fill right now that you would fill right away if possible?’ and every hand goes up,” Monies said.
This points up the need for Oklahoma policymakers to continue to push not just for more college graduates from this state — that must always be a priority, particularly in the STEM fields— but also to encourage students to pursue careers that don’t require a fouryear degree.
The Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development has said that by 2025, 70 percent of the jobs in Oklahoma will require some post-secondary education and training. Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Works initiative, begun in 2015, has a goal of increasing degree and certificate completion via partnerships involving K-12 schools, higher ed, CareerTech and the business community. She also has advocated for more apprenticeships and internships.
These and other initiatives must continue apace. The bottom line is that a high school diploma, once a ticket to a good-paying job, is no longer enough.
“We need more college degrees, but we need more post-secondary,” Monies said. “You have to have either industry certification, an associate’s degree or some kind of credential.”
That’s not just for in the years ahead, but for right now.