Lack of Qualified Applicants Hinder Job Growth in Missouri


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Missouri employers face a shortage of skilled workers and are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a state investigation.

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic caused business closures, employers across the state are seeing fewer applicants and a tight job market.

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center released the results of the third annual employer survey on December 15.

The statewide survey surveyed more than 800 Missouri employers between June and July to better understand employer needs, job growth, hiring trends, barriers to job growth employment, skills shortages and candidate gaps.

The survey covered only companies with at least five employees, including 541 employers in metropolitan areas of the state and 293 employers in non-metropolitan areas.

Missouri has more than 200,000 employers and approximately 2.6 million people employed.

Over the past 12 months, employment levels have remained the same for 47 percent of the companies surveyed, and increased slightly or significantly for 25 percent and decreased slightly or significantly for 27 percent.

Of the employers who responded that employment had increased or decreased significantly in 2021, 64% said it was because of the pandemic.

According to the survey, the biggest factor preventing companies from expanding employment is the lack of workers with skills and knowledge.

Sixty percent – or almost two-thirds – of employers responded that the lack of skilled workers was the main obstacle to job growth. This is an increase of more than 10% from the last two years, in which only 47% of employers responded that the lack of skilled and knowledgeable workers was a barrier to job growth.

The lack of workers with skills and knowledge has been the biggest obstacle to job growth at Missouri companies over the past three years.

Additional barriers include economic conditions, general COVID-19 issues, and government policies and regulations, which at least 30% of employers surveyed cited as a barrier.

While this is not always a barrier to job growth, a total of 68% of employers surveyed said they face a shortage of qualified candidates.

This is a dramatic increase from the last time employers were asked about shortages of qualified candidates, when only 28% of companies said they had a shortage in 2019.

In the skilled trades, for example, shortages of qualified candidates are increasingly common among employers every year. Seventy-two percent of skilled trades employers reported a shortage of qualified candidates in 2021, an increase of 23 percent from 2019.

Customer service has seen similar shortages in recent years, dropping from 25% in 2019 to 47% in 2021.

Poor work habits, a lack of critical thinking, a lack of general business or industry knowledge, and a lack of communication or interpersonal skills were the main shortcomings of applicants, employers surveyed said.

Employers in patient care, employers in manufacturing and maintenance, and employers in the skilled trades have found shortages of qualified candidates to be the most critical for their businesses.

But employers remain optimistic, the survey notes.

Fifty-five percent of employers surveyed said they plan to increase employment in the next 12 months, which is more than the previous two years the survey was conducted.

To address shortages, 81 percent of employers surveyed said they hired people with less experience than they would like and offered training after hiring.

Additionally, the survey found that employers were more likely to hire outside of their region and offer higher wages to tackle shortages of qualified candidates this year. Sixty-four percent said they would offer higher wages this year, an increase from the 49 percent who said they would in 2019.

Employers are also considering more workforce initiatives, including cross-training, increased employee attention and engagement, and increased hiring to meet demand, according to the survey.

“This could be attributed to the tightening of the labor market and more difficulties in finding employees than last year,” the survey notes.

Throughout the survey responses, particular emphasis was placed on how the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the Missouri workforce.

About 20% of companies surveyed reported having staff working remotely in 2021, which is less than half of what it was in 2020, when 56% of employers surveyed reported having staff working remotely.

Looking to the future, employers are more concerned with attracting and retaining employees, according to the survey.

The tight job market has replaced COVID-19 issues as the number one concern for employers. Consumer concerns about COVID-19 and employee concerns about the virus were the top two concerns for employers last year.

“In 2021, attracting / retaining talent was more of a concern, showing the effects of a tighter labor market this year,” the report says.

Veronica Gielazauskas, deputy commissioner for the Missouri Department of Advanced Education and Workforce Development, said the state’s civilian workforce had declined by 38,921 since February 2020.

Fewer people are counted as employed and fewer are counted as unemployed, she said.

A smaller workforce means it is more difficult for employers to find employees, Gielazauskas said, leading to more positions available in the state.

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