Please click here for the
introduction and index to this
series of articles. In this installment,
we’re pleased to have Kent Gardner, Chief Economist at the Center for
Governmental Research (CGR), contribute his observations from the Rochester Area Skill Needs Assessment and Business Climate
Challenge of Matching Jobs and Job Seekers
is nothing more debilitating than unemployment—both for the individual and
society. The jobless are deprived of the dignity of work and the community is
deprived of the benefit of their labor. We look to workforce development
programs and higher education to match jobs and job seekers and, often, to help
the unemployed gain the skills that are needed in the workplace.
attention has focused on “middle skills,” those positions requiring some
postsecondary technical education and training but not a four year college
degree. A recent Harvard Business Review
found that nearly half of new job openings from 2010 through 2020 will be
middle-skills positions in fields such as computer technology, nursing, and
high-skill manufacturing. Community colleges (such as Monroe Community College)
are particularly well suited to addressing the middle skills gap and are
exploring how they can best fill that need.
leads to a reasonably neat policy prescription: If we have willing workers
whose skills simply fall short, then the public’s role is to provide a bridge
to employment through training. Easy, right? As one of the Rochester area’s
most strategic training providers, Monroe Community College is continuously seeking
better information on the needs of its market.
of Firms. MCC’s
Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services division engaged CGR to
support its effort to survey the workforce skill needs of the business firms in
the MCC service territory. The Rochester Business Journal (RBJ) joined the
partnership, providing feedback on survey design and access to the list of
individuals who have registered to receive the RBJ Daily Report or other
The 338 firms that responded to the survey
represented about 86,000 workers, a quite respectable share of total employment
in the Rochester metro. Manufacturers made up the largest share of respondents,
nearly a third of the total.
Skills gap. We were particularly interested in learning
more about this “skills gap,” the notion that there are positions that remain
persistently vacant because the workforce lacks the skills to secure these
positions. Survey respondents reported 740 persistently unfilled positions. In
a rough extrapolation across the entire Finger Lakes economy, we estimate that
the total would be about 23,000 across a range of occupations, just under 5% of
total occupied positions. “Production” occupations were the plurality, with
machinists mentioned far more frequently than any other single occupation.
Consistent with the national middle skills discussion, 61% of the unfilled
positions are considered middle skills, most requiring “long-term on the job
While lacking an external reference point,
this doesn’t seem to be particularly high. After all, a firm employs a range of
skills that are deployed in a variety of combinations. Specific positions often
fail to fit a convenient set of characteristics. Perhaps a valued employee,
call him “Jim,” leaves for a position in another firm. The position could be
hard to fill because Jim brought an unusual set of skills—yes, he is machinist,
but also has a natural rapport with the engineers who are the firm’s customers.
Oh, and he was the only employee who could get a particularly cranky machine
properly calibrated. There isn’t a Jim curriculum
at the local community college.
Positions may also remain unfilled just
because a job’s rewards fall short of its headaches. The home care industry
struggles with a very high level of turnover—caring for the infirm elderly can
be physically and emotionally demanding. Workers who don’t feel a calling to
the position are unlikely find the pay sufficient if they are presented with other
And we also wonder if the “skills gap” is a
manifestation of the firm’s competitive position. One tantalizing clue: The
“persistently unfilled” positions were predominantly found at small firms.
Large firms seem able to deal with the problem. Perhaps smaller firms can’t
afford to pay what is required to meet their needs or lack the capacity to cast
their employment net across a larger geography.
common theme in the survey is the lack of “basic employability” skills, e.g.
work ethic, coming to work on time, etc. This kind of non-specific training may
fill the “skills gap” that exists for those positions that are considered low
skill or semi-skill, particularly many of the customer service/sales positions
mentioned by respondents.
much of this is real, this could also be partly generational. Baby boomer
managers may expect a level of dedication and reliability that a younger
What’s next? MCC is using the results of the survey to determine
how to focus its resources. The need for “long term on the job training”
suggests that customized training for individual sectors—such as the tooling
and machining or optics—should continue and possibly be expanded. The issue of
basic employability reinforces the role of programs that bring young people
into the workforce—summer jobs programs, internships and coops.
We’re going back to our survey pool to
learn more, such as: Are firms with unfilled positions searching outside the
area? Are the missing skills available at a higher price point? A revised
survey will be rolled out in the next few weeks.
The “Curious Case of GlobalFoundries”, discussed
by Camoin’s Michael N’dolo in a previous issue of this newsletter is also
intriguing. If you’ve not read his post, he did a simple cost benefit analysis
of training Hudson Valley Community College in Electrical Technology, a degree
that nearly guarantees access to jobs at GlobalFoundries, Tokyo Electronics and
other firms in the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering universe.
Michael concluded that “[T]he payback is extremely quick and lifetime earnings
are likely doubled or tripled.”
Despite the near-certain payoff, HVCC has
had difficulty filling classes. Moreover, about half of those enrolling drop
out before getting the degree. And GlobalFoundries has been forced to import
skilled workers from outside the Capital District to meet its needs.
Back to high school? Mr. N’dolo
speculates that the HVCC coursework may demand more mathematical competence
than high school graduates bring to the workforce. Which brings us back to the
recent statewide test scores: Less than a third of students in grades 3-8
statewide met the new math standard. Only 29% of Albany County’s 8th
graders and 9% of Albany City’s 8th graders—surely a big part of a
HVCC’s pool of future candidates—met the standard. Sad to report, less than 4%
of 8th graders passed the math bar in our local Rochester city
The ECONOMY has raised the bar. NYS Education Commissioner John King has
faced a firestorm of protest over the new Common Core-aligned standards. He
recently cancelled a series of forums on the subject after protesters disrupted
the first in the series (he’s rescheduled since). It isn’t fair to blame the
Commissioner or the Regents, however. As the GlobalFoundries examples suggests,
it is the global economy that has “raised the bar” for student achievement. The
skills gap starts in Pre-K.
Kent’s original article appeared in the Rochester Business
Journal - free registration and login may be required:
The Rochester Area Skill Needs Assessment and Business Climate
Survey can be found here: http://www.cgr.org/reports/13_R-1712_MCCAreaSkillNeedsSurvey.pdf
About the Author:
Dr. Gardner leads CGR’s study of economics and public finance
and also serves as Chief Research Officer, responsible for ensuring that CGR’s
work is thoughtful, reliable and accessible. He brings 25 years’ experience in
state and regional economic analysis, assessing the impacts of major
developments, institutional change or public policy. He frequently comments on
economic issues for the media and before community and public organizations.
Kent Gardner, Chief Economist
firstname.lastname@example.org | @KentGardner_CGR
other articles in this series, visit our Blog Library.