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Report: Missouri Employers Struggle To Find Qualified Workers

Inside Cerner's Innovations Campus, which opened last year in south Kansas City.

It's official: There are not enough workers for all of the new jobs in the United States. The number of job openings exceeds the number of job seekers for the first time on record, the U.S. Labor departmentsaid this week.

In Missouri, employers struggle not with the quantity of workers but how qualified they are, says Jeff Pinkerton, senior researcher with the Mid-America Regional Council.

“We often hear that engineering firms and IT firms can’t find people because they are looking for people with a certain set of skills. They need to come in the door knowing how to code or how to be an engineer,” Pinkerton says.

He also says Missouri doesn't have enough nurses and blue-collar workers.

“You can always find pockets in the economy that are having hard time finding talent,” he adds.

A May report from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, called Workforce 2030, concludes there are not enough workers for jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. While 53 percent of Missouri jobs fall into this category, only 46 percent of workers meet those criteria, according to the report.

The 1,000 biggest employers in Missouri were interviewed for the report, and only 15 percent of them said high schools are doing good job in preparing students for work.

Employers complained that many workers don’t have “soft skills,” failing to understand or meet workplace expectations regarding dependability, honesty, professional behavior and communication. They also reported that workers often don’t have enough technical skills, and basic knowledge such as spoken or written English.

Employers in Kansas are also struggling to find qualified workers, Pinkerton says, adding that employers across the country are having trouble filling high-tech positions.

But the skill gap is not the only problem. The U.S. workforce is also on the edge of a demographic crisis.

Missouri has 1.6 million people between the ages of 44 and 65 who are expected to retire in next 20 years, according to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce report. However, only 1.4 million Missourians under 18 are expected to fill positions left open when the older workers retire, creating a shortage of 200,000 workers.

That’s assuming all those young people stay in Missouri. Fewer than a third of employers interviewed by the Chamber said the state is doing good job of attracting and maintaining employees.

Meanwhile, Missouri is growing jobs, especially in industries such as systems design, architecture and engineering, and aerospace. The technical sector in the Midwest is growing at double the rate of the national average, according to a 2018 economic forecast by the Mid-America Regional Council.

Kansas City currently employs around 100,000 people in tech industries — not only people at tech firms, but workers in manufacturing and other industries that have tech as a component. And there’s still a demand for more workers.

According to a 2017 annual report by the Tech Council, a regional advocate for Kansas City's tech industry, Kansas City had more than 10,000 open computing positions last year, but only a thousand computer science graduates who could fill those positions.

The Chamber of Commerce report says schools need to work more closely with businesses to prepare their students for work.

But MARC's Pinkerton says schools are expanding technical education to meet the demand.

“The economy is changing, and we started to catch up a little bit,” Pinkerton says.

Anna Yakutenko is Alfried Friendly Press Partners Fellow working at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at annay@kcur.org.

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