STLCC’s Latest Workforce Research Discusses Bridges and Barriers to Economic Opportunity

By on August 7, 2015
Bridges and Barriers to Economic Opportunity

St. Louis Community College presented the seventh annual State of St. Louis Workforce Report highlighting key talent development issues for the region. The report, compiled by the college’s Workforce Solutions Group, includes an employer survey that tracks trends in employment, highlights hiring practices, and gauges employers’ perceptions on a range of workforce issues. It also includes the results of a focus group of economically disadvantaged individuals participating in local training and education programs. The report outlines continued improvement in hiring but with a more challenging environment for employers in finding a qualified workforce.

The findings were released to nearly 400 business and community leaders at the college’s Forest Park campus. The event included a presentation of the findings and reactions by a panel of leading employers, business, and community organizations facilitated by Dr. Rod Nunn, interim president, St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. Attendees had an opportunity to participate in small group discussions after the report and panel reaction. The event is co-sponsored by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and aired live on HEC-TV network.

Dr. Jeff Pittman, chancellor of St. Louis Community College, said, “I am excited to be a part of the St. Louis community and all that you do here. I believe that we can use this report to better our region and the lives of the people who reside here. We at the college are especially pleased that this year’s research speaks directly to the economic opportunity gaps faced by many in our community.”

The theme of this year’s report is “Economic Opportunity Gaps in the St. Louis Workforce.” The employer survey included questions about practices that either create barriers or built bridges to economic opportunity.

College officials were joined by executives from several organizations including the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the Regional Business Council, Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis, and UPS. The findings of the report were presented by Alan Spell of the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri’s labor market information office.

In summary, key findings from the survey of over 1,100 regional employers include:

  • The economy and labor market has nearly recovered by many measures. Almost four in 10 employers reported increases in employment over the last year, while only slightly more than one in 10 reported decreases. As in past years, a slight majority of employers (52%) reported that their employment remained the same.
  • For the first time since the survey began, the shortage of workers with knowledge or skills is the most frequently cited barrier to expanding employment, surpassing economic conditions and government policies or regulations.
  • 55% of employers reported experiencing skill shortages. When asked, 83% of the employers surveyed reported that they, “were forced to hire less experienced workers and train them,” and 41% reported, “offering increased wages due to skill shortages.”
  • Employers reported that they had relatively more positions at lower education and experience levels and fewer at higher levels as compared to 2013 and previous surveys. We believe that these responses are indicative of a tightening labor market.
  • Overall, 37% of the jobs represented in this year’s survey were available to individuals with short-term training, defined as high school plus six months of industry-specific training. Employers reported that 56% of the jobs they offered were on an established pathway to advancement through performance or further training. The vast majority, (98%) of employers, responded that they had some mechanism in place for employee development ranging from informal on-the-job training to tuition reimbursement programs.
  • 40% of employers reported requiring drug screens for all jobs within their organizations. Likewise, 61% of employers required background checks for all jobs. The survey also asked employers a series of statements reflecting their position on hiring felons who had completed their sentence or probation. Only 13% responded that they would hire a former felon for any jobs for which they qualified. 26% reported that they would not hire a felon under any circumstances. The remaining responses indicated that it depended upon the nature of the felony or the specific job.

“We are certainly encouraged to see continued growth in hiring, but also note the increasing difficulty that employers are having in finding a qualified workforce in a tightening labor market. At the same time, we know, and the report supports, that many of our citizens are experiencing barriers and frustration in finding employment opportunities with a future,” said Steve Long, St. Louis Community College’s associate vice chancellor for Workforce Solutions.

Employment and Education Experiences of Economically Disadvantaged Populations

As part of the State of St. Louis Workforce, the college conducted focus group interviews of participants in four leading programs, preparing economically disadvantaged populations for education or work.

The findings from those interviews include:

  • Participants have strong emotional catalysts
    My motivation comes from seeing the condition of my people…it’s not about me…just because I make it doesn’t mean my peers will make it.”
  • Participants have frustrations with job search process and barriers to reaching goals
    Everything on the resume doesn’t define the person; candidates should be allowed to say who they really are.”
  • Participants cite the need more employer support
    Programs do a lot of great things, but they have to push for more connections to jobs.”

“I would encourage everyone to download the full report and absorb the information that it contains. The data it provides is invaluable in speaking to the workforce barriers that affect the St. Louis region. The report outlines the growth in middle-skill occupations that require education beyond high school but don’t require a bachelor’s degree. This includes jobs like machinists, welders, medical coders, help desk technicians, and lab technicians,” said Dr. Nunn.

About the State of St. Louis Workforce Report

The research report encompasses three key sections: analysis of available governmental data, a large employer survey on a wide spectrum of hiring and workforce issues, and a report compiled from focus group interviews of economically disadvantaged populations engaged in training or job search. Visit STLCC.edu/stlworkforce for more information on this annual regional workforce study or to download this year’s report or any of the reports from previous years.

About the State of St. Louis Workforce Panelists and Speakers

Dr. Rod Nunn, interim president, St. Louis Community College at Forest Park; Dr. Jeff Pittman, chancellor, St. Louis Community College; Michael McMillan president and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; Kathy Osborn, executive director, Regional Business Council; John Gaal, director of training and workforce development, Carpenters’ District Council of Greater St. Louis; Eric Henderson, Missouri area human resources manager, UPS; and Alan Spell, research manager, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

About Julie Lay

Julie Lay is the Director of Communications for St. Louis Community College.