St. Louis’ economy is doing well, but employers are having a harder time finding skilled employees.
Those are among the findings in the 2015 State of St. Louis Workforce Report released by St. Louis Community College on Wednesday.
The unemployment rate for St. Louis is 5.8 percent, nearly half what it was in 2009 when the community college first released the annual report. The number of unemployed has dropped to 84,000 in 2015 from 104,000 in 2013.
"By all measures employers are optimistic about hiring going forward," said Steve Long, associate vice chancellor of St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group.
For the first time, 57 percent of employers said the biggest barrier to expanding their workforce was finding workers with knowledge or skills. Long said in the past, economic conditions came in as the number one reason. He said it’s a good indication that the labor market is tightening.
"We know that employers are having to resort, if you will, to hiring less experienced employees and training them," Long said. "In other words, they can’t find people to come in with all the skills they need."
Long said companies also reported that they have entry-level positions that require only short-term training. Nearly 70 percent of the 1,100 employers surveyed said they had open positions for individuals who have a high school degree and as little as six months of industry-specific training.
"There are opportunities out there," he said. "We also found those same employers said 56 percent of those jobs were on a career path. In other words, there were ways to advance in that field through performance and further training."
St. Louis Community College is working to meet the need through short-term accelerated training programs and creating career-path training, according to Long. He also said he hopes to see better communication between industry and educators about what employers’ needs and requirements are.
The report also looked at barriers to employment within the St. Louis region. The survey, for instance, asked whether employers would hire a felon who had completed their sentence or probation. Long said 26 percent responded they would not consider a felon for any reason, while only 13 percent said they would consider a felon. The majority, at 46 percent, said it would depend on the nature of the felony and the time since the offense.
For the first time, the report also included a survey of people who come from economically disadvantaged populations. Long said they talked with participants in programs including the Urban League’s Save Our Sons Program, the Metropolitan Education and Training Center, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment and others.
He said they learned that one of the frustrations is getting through the automated application process that many companies now have.
"We heard 'How do you get folks to really take a second look at you and really know who you are?’'"
Long said while he doesn’t know the answer, the survey helped provide a better understanding of the hopes and frustrations who have actively sought to workforce training. The report, he said, will help the community college better meet their needs.
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