Mary Ann Rojas leads southwest Missouri’s workforce development efforts as unemployment levels out and employers make calculated changes.
2016 Projection A robust job market and, thanks to strategic partnerships, renewed interest in lagging industries.
SBJ: How did the southwest Missouri job market fare in 2015?
Mary Ann Rojas: At the very beginning of 2015, we really started seeing an uptick in employer hiring activity. Employers are really looking to hire, and that’s always a good sign. Hiring is up, and front and center in their minds is finding the best people to do the job. The talent pool is shrinking.
SBJ: How are you helping employers address shrinking talent?
Rojas: There are some things we’ve already put in motion. This past year we developed industry roundtables where people from respected businesses come in and speak about what is going on in their industry sector and what challenges they’ve had.
One challenge with construction or any craft trade job is that some people, especially our emerging workforce, don’t see the value or have interest in that type of work. With technology and rapid change in the workforce, there isn’t interest in becoming a mechanic or welder or brick mason. Those jobs pay very well, and we need them. Whatever comes next in the (information technology) industry, whatever the next best thing is, we are still going to need someone to keep our cars running and our homes safe and warm.
We don’t have that many folks in the civilian labor force and we don’t have as many men as we used to. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January 1970, 78.5 percent of men over age 16 were working compared to 68.5 percent this November.
SBJ: Will that trend of more employers looking for workers continue?
Rojas: I’m confident it will. When you have a 3.8 percent unemployment rate like we do, typically that means it’s full employment. Anyone who wants to work should be working. However, we are seeing individuals come in to our Career Center who lack either basic skills or the education and training required to even get in the door. As a result of our last State of the Workforce Survey, we found employers’ main concerns are those soft skills and work readiness. They also cited things like personal hygiene.
SBJ: What employment sectors showed movement in 2015?
Rojas: I’m happy to see manufacturing and construction come back strong. Typically, when you have those industries making it, there is a resurgence in activity, and other industries will follow.
SBJ: What jobs show the most promise in 2016?
Rojas: Manufacturing is going to continue to grow. We are seeing reshoring, companies moving back to the U.S. due to fuel costs. We’ve also seen some layoffs due to reorganizing. Companies are recognizing the growth in the economy, determining where they want to go and what type of skill set they need to get them there. It’s one thing to be in a recession where companies are laying off because the revenue isn’t where it needs to be. It’s another thing when the economy is strong and companies have options.
SBJ: What are the in-demand jobs?
Rojas: It’s kind of by sector. In IT, there is a big demand for cybersecurity and coding. In health care, the demand for registered nurses continues to grow. We literally have hundreds of openings for RNs. In manufacturing, understanding robotics and the IT side, but also trades, like stainless steel welders. In construction, huge demand for brick masons and carpenters.
SBJ: As of October, the Springfield area unemployment rate was 3.8 percent – a full point below the national level. Will it continue to fall or has it leveled out?
Rojas: In the first quarter, we may see that go up a bit because of our seasonal hiring numbers. That’s also when construction and agricultural industries slow down. I see it staying stable, between 4 and 5 percent.
SBJ: Are there any areas of concern in 2016?
Rojas: If I had a crystal ball to see in the future, my biggest concern is that we are not training our individuals quickly enough. That entails a whole other set of issues. How is the education system responding? When industry needs workers, they need workers. They can’t afford to wait for the next semester.
This year, for the 38th season, the Springfield Ballet Inc. will perform “The Nutcracker” on the proscenium stage of the Landers Theatre, with six performances set Dec. 15-18.