Hiring plans and difficulty in filling positions were top of mind for respondents to the 2020 Momentum State of the Workforce survey.
Results from the sixth-annual survey were unveiled at a Feb. 19 luncheon before nearly 350 attendees at White River Conference Center. Springfield’s Workforce Development interim Director Sally Payne noted 49% of survey participants plan to hire at least one full-time employee over the next 12 months – the highest percentage recorded on the question since the survey began in 2015. Last year, only 40% answered the hiring question so affirmatively.
That percentage jump caught the attention of Mardy Leathers, director of the Missouri Office of Workforce Development. Leathers was among several state officials in attendance at the luncheon.
“The 9% year-over-year growth that employers are likely to hire – not even somewhat likely – but for sure are going to increase their payroll this year, that stands out,” he said. “That gives me a positive outlook to take back [to Jefferson City] when I think about state growth.”
Still, finding quality candidates to fill those full-time jobs remains a challenge, according to survey respondents. Even as Missouri’s unemployment rates continues to hover above 3%, according to the state Department of Economic Development, 71% who responded reported difficulty in filling positions over the past year. That’s up from 67% in 2019.
Springfield’s annual confidential survey provides data for the Missouri Job Center to assess needs of employers, while identifying issues and challenges in the workforce. The results were compiled based on responses from businesses, nonprofits, government, health care and educational institutions within the seven-county Ozarks region. It covers Greene, Christian, Dallas, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties.
A total of 405 surveys were completed this year, down nearly 20% from 2019 and second lowest since inception. Job Center spokeswoman Katherine Trombetta said officials were uncertain why response volumes were low, but noted survey administrators Opinion Research Specialists LLC still considered the total a very good sampling.
Mountains to climb
In Payne’s survey summary, she pointed to several reasons for hiring difficulties.
“There’s a few things that surface, such as insufficient number of applicants, which jumped from 34% to 45% this year,” she said, adding lack of relevant experience at 34% and failure to show up for a job interview at 31% rounded out the top three reasons.
Audrey Pauls, co-owner of Zenith Climbing Center LLC, said she’s one of those employers looking to add staff. The 12-employee indoor climbing gym is currently seeking a new instructor.
While Zenith doesn’t face some of the top hiring challenges noted in the survey, Pauls said finding the right employee isn’t cut and dried.
“For our particular business, it’s so specific,” she said. “We can’t go on Indeed.com and hire someone. We have to have someone who has rock climbing experience. We need to know they have that technical skill in addition to other qualities we want in an employee, like reliability and honesty.”
Organizations with hiring difficulties responded primarily by increased recruiting efforts within the region – the top answer, at 50%. However, providing overtime for skilled workers increased to 40%, nearly double the 21% response in 2016.
“Employers are looking to hire, but it’s hard to find talent,” said Hollie Elliott, executive director of the Dallas County Economic Development Group.
She said smaller towns, such as Buffalo, where she works, and Dallas County, in general, are seeing trends similar to those reflected in the workforce survey. However, she said those using the traditional excuse of saying there’s no jobs around are wrong.
“Even in smaller communities, if you’re looking for opportunities, there are jobs available,” Elliott said, adding health care providers Mercy and Citizens Memorial Healthcare frequently are hiring in Dallas County.
She noted mentorships, internships and apprenticeships are tools Dallas County leaders need to utilize to better connect students with the business community.
Apprenticeships recently got a boost in the state. State of the Workforce keynote speaker Zora Mulligan, Missouri’s Higher Education commissioner, pointed to a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. According to a news release, the Missouri Chamber Foundation was awarded the funds to expand technology industry apprenticeships, totaling nearly 5,300 over the next four years.
Aside from data of hiring new employees, Leathers said responses from employers expanding operations throughout the region in the next two years was another notable takeaway.
More than 60% of respondents said it was very likely or somewhat likely expansion would take place in the next 24 months.
“Seeing the investment in training and cultivating the talent so that they can keep their talent here and have a more productive workforce, that’s really critical,” he said, noting training was one of the top strategies employers cited in the survey to retain employees.
Although Leathers noted an economic slowdown could be in the offing in 2020, he doesn’t see it happening in southwest Missouri.
“This region has continually been one of the strongest economic regions in the state, and this data tells me that’s not changing,” he said. “That momentum is going to continue to grow.”
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