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Survey: Employers bullish, qualified workers rare

John Seelmeyer

Nevadaworks just completed its annual survey of employers about the region’s job market, and the chief executive officer of the workforce development agency sees reason for worry.

Even while they’re strongly bullish on the companies’ futures, executives continue to say they’re having difficulty finding qualified workers to fill vacant positions, says Tom Fitzgerald.

At the same time, however, Fitzgerald notes that the survey found that medical benefits a key element in recruiting and retaining staff are surprisingly rare in the area.

Even more worrisome, he says, is the continued reluctance of employers to invest in job training programs to meet future needs especially as Baby Boomers begin to retire.

“Employers have no clue what’s going on,” Fitzgerald says.”Nobody is planning for the future.We all know that there’s a gap coming.” Nevadaworks is ready to release its annual Occupational Outlook Report, an in-depth survey that looks at 20 job categories a year, updating every category once each three years.

This time around, the survey looked at positions ranging from accountants to Web masters.

Almost without fail, a majority of employers in each field said it’s difficult to find qualified employees.

In three occupations surveyors, welders and occupational therapists employers went a step farther and said it’s extremely difficult to find help.

Also noteworthy, Fitzgerald says, is the amount of churn in the labor market.

Among painting contractors, for instance, employers said they’ve been hiring in the last 12 months, but half of the vacancies have resulted from people leaving their firms.

Among companies that employ welders, 43 percent of the vacancies were the result of churn.Among trucking firms, 50 percent.

Among printers, 40 percent.

While employers often focus on increased pay as a method to reduce turnover, Fitzgerald says the survey indicates that benefits may be worth a new look.

In only about a third of the 60 occupations surveyed by Nevadaworks do a majority of employers provide company-paid health insurance.

In 35 percent of the occupations, the majority of employers don’t provide paid holidays.

The Nevadaworks chief says the annual surveys continue to provide some surprises about the education levels that employers demand as well as the overall level of pay.

On the education side, Fitzgerald notes that the majority of the employers in 20 percent of the occupations surveyed this year requires less than a high school diploma.

In only about 25 percent of the fields is a college degree required.

At the same time, he noted nearly all the workers with three or more years of experience covered in this year’s survey are making $25,000 a year or more, and a large percentage are making at least $35,000.

“You don’t have to go to college in this town to make a good living,” he says.

On the other hand, the willingness of employers to hire less-educated workers troubles Fitzgerald.

Some employers, he says, hire large numbers of high school dropouts then complain that they’re not well-trained and can’t handle simple math.

The struggles reported by many companies as they search for staff members, Fitzgerald says, also point up the need for employers to revisit their hiring standards.

In visits to companies throughout the region, the Nevadaworks chief has challenged executives to reconsider whether hiring rules about personal appearance, credit ratings or even drug history are necessary.

“There are plenty of people plenty of good people available,”he says.”But you have to open your eyes and look at the realities of today’s workplace.”