Workforce Woes?

EDCUtahLogoLast Wednesday EDCUtah hosted a press conference for the Utah Foundation, where the organization announced the findings of its survey of 151 local employers.

Topics of the survey focused on what inhibits business growth in Utah, the best and worst of Utah’s labor pool, the availability of potential employees, how Utahns stack up against their out-of-state counterparts and what drives companies to relocate to or away from Utah.

Some of the key findings from the survey:

  • 71 percent of respondents reported some level of difficulty finding enough skilled or qualified employees.
  • 32 percent identified the shortage as the greatest factor impeding their growth.
  • 30 percent identified it as the worst quality of Utah’s labor pool.
  • 89 percent of employers with an out-of-state presence indicated that their Utah employees had about the same or better education than their out-of-state employees.
  • 25 percent of respondents recognized Utah’s work ethic as the best quality of its labor force. 60 percent of the companies with an out-of-state presence said their Utah employees were more productive than their out-of-state counterparts.
  • 10 percent of respondents had entered into or implemented a major expansion in Utah’s market in the past 15 years. All of them indicated that given what they know now, were they facing the same choice, they would still come to Utah.
  • 92 percent of companies think Utah is on the right track.

The survey’s resultant press coverage seemed to zero in on idea that Utah doesn’t have enough labor, that the labor pool isn’t educated enough and that companies in expansion mode can’t find enough talent.

“A tight labor market is a natural consequence of Utah’s low unemployment rate, but in practicality Utah has one of the best, if not the best labor forces in the country,” says Edwards. “Our labor force is highly acclaimed. It’s one of Utah’s greatest assets. Are there challenges? Yes. Do we need more students graduating in STEM disciplines? Yes. Are we doing something about it? Absolutely.”

In fact, Utah business, government and education leaders are working together more than ever to strengthen the state’s pipeline of skilled workers. There are efforts like the educational pathways program that are helping move students from high school into aerospace jobs and helping them develop the required skill sets in a shorter amount of time. What’s more, Gov. Gary Herbert has made STEM education the primary focus of his education budget.

If there is a talent shortage in Utah, it didn’t adversely affect EDCUtah’s recruiting efforts in 2015. The organization experienced one of its best years ever for the calendar year.

Companies continue to compare Utah against other markets and they continue to choose Utah for their relocation and expansion projects. “The Governor’s Office of Economic Development just announced three major project wins on Dec. 10,” says Edwards. “Three major companies evaluated our market and our labor force and were propelled to make investments here. What’s more, companies that locate in Utah will often come back again with a new project or expansion. We have seen it over and over again this year.”

The project wins announced by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development include:

  • RAM Company, a Washington County-based aerospace supplier that will expand its manufacturing facility, adding more than 100 jobs and making an $11 million capital investment.
  • Stadler Rail Group, headquartered in Bussnang, Switzerland, has selected Utah for the location of its temporary manufacturing and assembly facility as part of the first phase of a 15-year plan to expand the company’s North American manufacturing. The project could mean more than 1,000 Utah jobs and a capital investment of more than $30 million.
  • HealthEquity, Inc. will expand its Utah headquarters, adding an estimated 200 jobs over the next six years and make a $6.75 million capital investment. The company serves 70 of the nation’s top health plans, over 27,000 employers and 1.6 million health savings accounts.

When announcing the decision to expand in Utah, HealthEquity President and CEO Jon Kessler said Utah “offers a highly skilled and educated talent pool, proactive communities and a government that promotes business. These amenities have been central to our continued growth.”

Meanwhile, the site selection team from Stadler Rail Group made multiple site visits to Utah and conducted a tremendous amount of due diligence before selecting the Beehive State.

“We understand we are a state with three million people and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, so there is not a large population of displaced workers out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have a labor problem,” Edwards explains. “These three companies, just like so many others this year, are a validation of the fact that the quantity and quality of our labor pool is meeting the market’s demand.”