Utah industries have a tough job: Finding qualified workers

Utah’s unemployment rate (3.1%) and job growth (3.2%) are among the best in the nation. Still, many businesses report difficulty finding as many qualified workers as they need to fill available positions.

A new research report from the independent, non-partisan Utah Foundation links the scarcity of skilled workers could be due to a number of factors, including a tight labor market, low wages, job desirability and skills gaps.

Key findings of the report Help Wanted: Workforce Participation, Wages, Job Desirability and Skills Gaps include:

  • Utah’s current labor force participation rate of 68.9% is still substantially lower than the 71-72% of the nineties and early 2000’s.
  • A 2015 survey of Utah businesses found the majority were offering lower wages than they were already paying current employees in difficult-to-fill positions.
  • Despite experiencing below-average unemployment rates for the past four years, wages have not increased as expected in a tight labor market.
  • While 63% of parents expect  their children to earn a 4-year degree, only 32% of Utahns historically do and only 29% of jobs in 2020 will require one.
  • Governments,  educational institutions, non-profits, trade organizations, private companies, and others are all working both independently and collaboratively to solve the skills gap through different methods.

Utah has any number of programs and offerings intended to help students graduate from high school and college with skills compatible with industry hiring needs. They include certification-based programs, technical college and community college programs, apprenticeships and many others. “Utah’s stakeholders, both public and private, are really pulling together to make sure Utah workers meet industry needs,” said Utah Foundation Research Analyst Christopher Collard, the author of the report.

Recently, initiatives such as the Talent Ready Utah initiative have been put in place to help young workers go directly into industries where more training and higher skill levels are required. However, Collard warns, “Wages and job desirability factors are necessary parts to any discussion on worker shortages or skills gaps.”

Utah Foundation has been studying Utah’s workforce and vocational training programs since 1948. Additional reports on the subject were published in 1958, 1967, 1971 and 1980. In their time, these reports highlighted so-called “stackable” degrees, transferable credits among all post-secondary institutions and keeping high school counselors aware of future job projects. As the report points out, “Studying the topic decades later, many current recommendations are remarkably similar.”