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As economy recovers, filling job vacancies becoming a challenge

A welder at Schweiss Doors in rural Fairfax works in this undated photo. Manufacturing jobs account for a quarter of the payroll in Renville County. Tribune file photo

MONTEVIDEO — Employers across Minnesota are finding it more difficult to fill jobs in some industries as the economy recovers, and that’s especially true in southwestern Minnesota.

Statewide, employers reported that 43 percent of job vacancies were difficult to fill, according to the Labor Market Information Office of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The most difficult jobs to fill were found in production. Employers in southwest Minnesota reported hiring difficulties for 81 percent of the production job vacancies. Their counterparts in central Minnesota reported difficulties for 90 percent of the jobs.

Employers in the metropolitan area reported 35 percent as hard to fill, according to Alessia Leibert in a recent report for Minnesota Economic Trends.

Smaller firms tended to have more difficulty recruiting than larger firms, according to the 2013 survey of hiring.

The good news is that while many job vacancies are slow to fill, they are being filled, according to Rachel Vilsack, regional analysis and outreach manager with the Labor Market Information Office in St. Paul.

Job vacancies are more difficult to fill for a variety of reasons.

There are skills shortages, where employers find it hard to recruit workers with the right skills mix.

Demand side issues are a big factor too. Unattractive wages, work hours, or location can also keep the number of applicants down.   

Many believe the current situation speaks to the recovery from the recession. The previous downturn meant fewer new workers were able to find or sought manufacturing jobs.

Today, there’s no question about the demand for workers with specific skills.

Welding is huge in terms of employer demand in this region, according to Carol Dombek with the Minnesota Work Force Center in Montevideo. The Work Force Center recently filled two 80-hour classes to provide entry-level welding skills for job seekers.

Wages for welders in southwest Minnesota range from $11.37 to $22.94 hour, with a median wage of $16.88 hour, according to the Work Force Center.

The Work Force Center is also seeing strong demand and difficulty in filling universal health care jobs, said Dombek. Wages for certified nursing assistants range from $9.88 to $14.36 an hour, with a median wage of $11.34.

Dombek said one of the challenges facing manufacturing is that a lot of young people are just not aware of the opportunities available. And, many do not realize how much the work environment and wages in manufacturing have improved.

Add to that the decline in employment during the recession, and the result is fewer young people pursuing careers in manufacturing.

A case in point: Manufacturing firms report that machinist jobs are among the most difficult to fill. The Minnesota West Community and Technology College in Granite Falls discontinued its two-year machine tools program during the recession after consecutive years with low enrollment, according to Linda Degriselles, campus dean.

She pointed out that demand for skilled workers in manufacturing is only growing. Employers came calling with more than 300 good-paying job offers for graduates in the school’s fluid power program, she said.

Dombek pointed out many job openings do not require specialized skills, and many employers are offering on-the-job training. She said job prospects are very good for entry-level workers with the foundation work skills needed.

Vilsack said that follow-up interviews with employers reporting difficulty in filling jobs indicated that while it is taking longer than they would like, employers are filling the positions. And in a majority of the cases, they reported being “very satisfied’’ with the new hire.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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