Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive February 2014 Show 1406 Skills Gap: Employers Need Skilled Workers

Skills Gap: Employers Need Skilled Workers

Value Added: Oklahoma’s business sector is strong, but worker credentials are not, which has created a skills gap for employers trying to fill jobs.
Skills Gap: Employers Need Skilled Workers

Skills Gap: Employers Need Skilled Workers

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Express Employment Professionals

Carlisle Foodservice Products

Show Details

Show 1406: Employers Need Skilled Workers
Air Date: February 9, 2014



Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone; thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, at the end of 2012, Oklahoma was No. 2 in the nation in terms of wage growth – seemingly good news for anyone receiving a larger paycheck. Yet just one year later, we began seeing a slowdown in job creation. Two numbers heading in opposite directions that economists believe are an indication of a troubling trend. For several years now, Oklahoma’s economy has been exceptionally strong for anyone with an in-demand skill or ability. Yet for those with a high school diploma or less, with no certifiable skill sets, their employment picture isn’t so rosy. In fact, unemployment for those with a high school diploma or less is twice that of those with a college degree or an industry certification. It’s called a skills gap. And it’s a problem that state leaders are well aware of. Here is our Andy Barth.

Andy Barth: While careers were lost in the great recession, Oklahoma bounced back quickly when returning jobs to the workforce.

Gov. Mary Fallin: We’ve been very fortunate in the state of Oklahoma to have a very low unemployment rate and one of the lowest in the nation.

Andy: An unemployment rate that while better than the national average is still leaving workers without jobs. And Gov. Mary Fallin says while Oklahoma’s business sector is strong, worker credentials are not.

Gov. Fallin: We know that Oklahoma has a very strong aerospace defense industry. We have a very strong energy sector. Biosciences, agriculture, transportation and distribution, financial services; those are all our core, key industries in our state that generate wealth. But we have to make sure that we have the skills and the workforce to fill those kinds of jobs. And if we don’t have those educational attainment levels, then those jobs will either not come to Oklahoma, or they’ll leave Oklahoma, or even the people will leave Oklahoma, if they can’t find the job they’re looking for.

Andy: Fifty years ago, nearly 80 percent of all jobs required only a high school diploma and most paid a good wage. Today, a high school diploma only qualifies workers for about 35 percent of the available jobs with the majority of them paying less than $25,000. Deidre Myers is with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

Deidre Myers: For those jobs that require or are sufficient with a high school degree or less, there’s no reason for those wages to go up because there is plenty of supply for those jobs. So they actually stay depressed.

Andy: And Myers says in order to close the skills gap, all job seekers and current employees must increase their proficiencies.

Myers: What we need to do is make sure that everybody continues along a career pathway or a pipeline. And so we need for people who have a skill now to increase their skills so that they create jobs that are in the backside of that pipeline that are for lower skills. That means that those people who are not working currently have an entry level position that they can get into and then start to build their skills. As we do that, everybody shifts up the career pathway or the pipeline, and that means every household is earning a little bit more money. Therefore we increase Oklahoma’s prosperity.

Andy: A prosperity that Fallin says must be encouraged at a young age.

Gov. Fallin: We’re going to reach down further into our school systems, into basically middle school and certainly into high school, and start talking to our students about the types of courses that they need to take to find things that they are interested in in the future.

Andy: Currently in Oklahoma, nearly half of the available jobs require vocational training or an associate degree, while nearly 23 percent require a high school diploma or less. However, when we look at the degrees Oklahomans actually have, the percentages are reversed. So a high school diploma, which is not enough for most jobs, is still the only degree most Oklahomans have. And as chair of the national governor’s association, Fallin says it’s not just an Oklahoma problem. On a global scale the United States continues to slip further and further behind.

Gov. Fallin: Well, if we look at the United States and where we fall within the 34 industrialized nations in the world, America is falling behind. We’re 14th in reading; we’re 25th in math, 17th in science. We’ve got to do a better job in the United States in getting our skill sets up so we can be competitive as a nation.

Andy: And at the annual Express Employment Professionals conference, industry leaders came together to discuss how to train people for higher paying jobs. Jonathan Thom is Express Employment’s vice president of professional staffing.

Jonathan Thom: Well you don’t mint a CNC operator overnight. You don’t mint an engineer overnight. It really is a process that takes, you know, upwards of a decade. So if we don’t start having that dialogue until today, it’s going to be another 10 years before we significantly shift that balance.

Andy: A balance that the CEO of Carlisle FoodService says weighs heavily on skills training.

Mark Meadors: I think kids have to recognize and understand it’s OK not to be the head of a company or not to be the head of sales, not to be an engineer, not to be in IT. It’s OK to operate a machine; it’s OK to be a tradesman. It can be very lucrative. It can be very lucrative.

Andy: And because wages for skilled workers continue to increase and decrease for non-skilled workers, the market becomes two-prong, creating a large gap that can only be bridged with a skills-based education. Once again, Mark Meadors of Carlisle foods.

Meadors: Obviously the solutions that are in place today aren’t working for us. We’ve got lots of people that are looking for work. We have lots of jobs – all industries. And they’re not fitting well together. So the solutions that we’ve lived within the past aren’t working. I think one of the solutions is to try to, is for employers to take a more active role, engaging educators and finding ways to create training programs to meet the needs that employers have.

Rob: Well, Andy, this sounds like a dilemma that could cut across a lot of different industries.

Andy: It really is, Rob, and we have to remember that the most important thing for an employer is to have a highly skilled worker. And I visited with a CEO of three major companies here in Oklahoma that are biotechnology based, and he was at a conference in Boston, and while he was there he says he was looking for new clients but also for new employees. And he also says that while he would love to be able to hire here in Oklahoma, we just don’t seem to have enough of the highly skilled workers he needs.

Rob: Which really could have some long-term economic consequences. Just put yourself in the shoes of someone wanting to start this high-tech company. Where are you going to go? Someplace where you can get a willing and ready workforce, or one where you struggle with people having the right skills?

Andy: That’s right. It all really comes down to the law of supply and demand. Here in Oklahoma, our highly skilled workforce just doesn’t seem to be meeting up with the demand that we have in industry. Therefore, those workers end up getting a dramatically increased wage. While it’s good for them, it’s a disincentive for those companies looking to locate here, because plain and simple, they’re going to have to pay their employees more.

Rob: Yeah, that really is an important point, you know, the haves and have-nots.