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Report: St. Louis Economy Improving But Challenges Persist

The Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College released its fifth annual State of the St. Louis Workforce Report earlier this month. The report is a compilation of data from 1,200 employers and surveys of more than 180 students.

The Executive Summary states:

Overall, the State of the St. Louis Workforce Report reflects optimism on the part of both of employers and students.  However, the results reflect the challenges of a recovering economy for employers, the hard facts of a competitive labor market for college graduates and the critical importance to educators of designing training programs that are both effective and engaging for students.

"One of the things we pride ourselves on is giving information to the community that they may not otherwise receive by looking at the standard monthly job report," said Rod Nunn of the report. He is vice-chancellor for economic development and workforce solutions at St. Louis Community College.

The college also uses the report to guide future course offerings and curriculum.

"Cautious optimism is the watchword," added Nunn. "More employers when compared to last year say that they would increase their workforce, fewer employers say that they would decrease, but the majority, 57 percent, says that their hiring outlook remains the same."

While there are more employers hiring, there are still more people looking for work than there are jobs available in St. Louis.

"There's slack in the labor market, meaning there are more job seekers than there are jobs," said Nunn. "So employers are very selective with respect to experience and education requirements and the demand for knowledgeable workers."

Manufacturing is one sector of the job market experiencing growth while, at the same time, many employers in that area are having difficulty finding applicants with the right skills.

"In our industry, we do high-end components for aerospace semiconductors, the job growth looks to be 10 to 15 percent," said Herb Homeyer, president of Homeyer Precision Manufacturing.

Part of the problem is a misconception of what manufacturing in the United States today entails. In the St. Louis area, the manufacturing that remains is high end, requiring skilled labor and knowledge of specific tools and programs as well as science, technology, engineering and math skills, known as STEM.

"There is a shortage of programmers for NX 8," said Homeyer. That is the system they use to program their machines. "We just ran an ad for our program and got a response from one gentleman out of the country. That is the only response we had."

The more typical, office-type jobs have fewer openings. Brian Ashcroft, principal of Human Resources at Edward Jones said the only positions they find harder to fill are ones requiring technical skills. But technical skills are not enough to get the job.

To be hired at Edward Jones, said Ashcroft, people need to be "able to inter-relate with each other, to be able to take a lot of information, turn it into something useable that provides value to our financial advisors, who then provide the value to our clients. It's not as simple as saying technical skills. You've got to bring more."

Across the board, employers in the report cited communication skills as the number one skill in demand.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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