2020 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report

By on November 18, 2020
2020 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report

In order for St. Louis Community College to successfully prepare our students for the workforce, we need to understand the complex and changing economic environment in our region. We cannot create new pathways to employment, new curriculum and accelerated training programs to prepare the future workforce without having an idea of which skills employers will need in six months (or three years). That understanding has never been needed more than now, in the midst of a global pandemic that has disrupted our economy and pushed us to unemployment levels unseen since the Great Depression.

The State of the St. Louis Workforce report normally alternates each year between a look at a composite of the region’s employers and, in the alternating year, a focus on particular sectors or disciplines. Our 2019 survey was a composite look, meaning our 2020 report should have been a deeper dive into one of our strategic industry sectors. The impact of COVID-19 on our region, state and country changed that. It became clear that we needed to understand the repercussions across all employers, not just a select few. We made the decision to produce this “out of cycle” composite report to be able to more clearly understand the magnitude of the changes the pandemic forced on St. Louis employers only a year after our last survey.

Unsurprisingly, we faced a few challenges getting this report to the finish line. While we normally survey in the spring and early summer and publish our report in August, this would have meant we were calling employers near the beginning of the pandemic. Instead, we chose to delay our survey to make sure employers had enough time to digest the initial effects COVID-19 had on their business, the changes to their workforce and operations, and their future plans.

Even with the delayed start, the pandemic did not make it easy to complete surveys. In what was our first indication of the widespread economic fallout of COVID-19, our survey partner reported an unprecedented 13,400 disconnected phone numbers during the survey period out of just under 150,000 attempted calls. The vast majority of the companies we surveyed were small and mid-sized businesses, so these disconnections may have been a reflection of a shift to mobility and the reality of working from home for company presidents and owners. But some percentage of this number certainly includes businesses that could not weather the pandemic. That means permanently lost jobs, and we anticipate a longer-term impact on the economy to show up in our survey for years to come.

In the end, the College and its partners surveyed more than 570 employers across 16 employer categories, and we are very pleased to present this 2020 State of the St. Louis Workforce report a bit later than usual. For the past twelve years, the College and its research partners have surveyed our region’s employers, from time spanning the recovery after the Great Recession through the growth of the decade-long bull market to the unprecedented challenges we are facing with COVID-19. The changes have been astonishing.

Last year’s 3.4% regional unemployment rate – the lowest level since December 1969 – skyrocketed to 11.6% before settling down to 7.5%. We saw the end of 120 months of continuous job growth, with nearly a quarter million job losses in Missouri during the initial phases of the pandemic. And while last year we claimed to have achieved a full employment economy with some significant demographics left behind, this year we worry if the recovery will be “K-shaped” with some groups recovering quickly and others – usually the most vulnerable populations with the least education – left behind once again.

To no one’s surprise, a third of employers this year reported reductions in workforce, indicating that the slight slowdown we saw in last year’s report has turned into a significant cull. But those employers that are still operating after six months of pandemic are hugely optimistic about 2021, with over half of companies looking to increase the size of their workforce and less than one-in-twenty believing they will make future cuts.

COVID-19 is at the top of all employers’ minds, with fewer than one-in-ten companies reporting that their business had been unaffected by the pandemic. Changes to operations to keep customers and employees safe are common, while many companies are looking to increase workforce resiliency – a logical move, since no one is sure when this pandemic will finally end.

As in years past, the 2020 State of the St. Louis Workforce report is supported through the partnership of our region’s top economic and workforce institutions. Along with the help of our decade-long partners at the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), we appreciate the collaboration with the St. Louis Business Journal, the Nine Network of Public Media’s American Graduate initiative, and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The information in this report includes labor market information from public sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. To provide deeper insights, we also used advanced analytical tools such as Burning Glass Labor Insight, JobsEQ and others. We would like to thank and acknowledge our employer, our research partners, and our media partners, without whom we would not be able to bring this informative workforce report to the region. We hope you will find this report valuable and use its findings for the benefit of your organization and our community.

We invite you to download the 2020 State of the St. Louis Workforce report at stlcc.edu/stlworkforce.

About Hart Nelson

Hart Nelson was appointed associate vice chancellor, Workforce Solutions Group in May 2018. Nelson has 23 years of career experience in public policy, government relations, intelligence and information technology. He serves as the lead for economic and workforce development, is responsible for managing corporate and community workforce development, continuing professional development and personal enrichment education, as well as managing entrepreneurial initiatives that reflect the needs of local, regional and national employers. Most recently, Nelson was vice president of public policy for the St. Louis Regional Chamber. He has been a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, an intelligence officer with the United States Navy Reserve and an information technology architect with IBM. As a volunteer, he is board treasurer of Citizens for Modern Transit and vice chair of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission. He has a master's degrees in business administration and information management from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Arts in political science and mass communication from University of California-Berkeley.

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