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Oregon unemployment rate remains high while many positions go unfilled

7:58 pm August 15th, 2012

By Erin Kelley- Staff

Stubbornly stuck at 8.4 percent, Oregon’s unemployment rate hasn’t budged in months, yet according to a recent report by Oregon state economists Nick Beleiciks and Gail Krumenauer, it isn’t for lack of openings.

Indeed, as explained in their report, the discrepancy have more to do with a lack of  job skills. Though in Oregon it is disheartening news as over 100,000 residents continue collecting unemployment insurance and seeking jobs, this trend is not confined to the state.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on this national trend, calling it a skill crisis.

The issue is that certain industries that require employees with specialized skills or a degree from a higher education institution, are now facing a significant hiring challenge.

Finding an educated, trained and ready workforce is not as easy as it used to be in Oregon or the US.

In Oregon, this may owe in part to the fact that only 55 percent of adult residents have earned an associates degree or higher from a college or higher education institution. For Oregon’s major employers, such as Intel, this means hiring workers from outside of the state who are more qualified and have a higher degree of education to fill positions, while unemployment remains high within the state. Several factors are driving this trend.

In the case of Intel, and many other companies in the health, sciences and technology sectors the issue is often that Oregon’s workforce does not meet the degree requirements for a position–forcing the company to look elsewhere for qualified and skilled employees, who have received a greater deal of education in the field.

For industries such as manufacturing services that require specialized skills–from welding and metal fabrication to truck driving–companies are struggling with the skill crisis as the current workforce ages.

The report suggests that within these fields, there may be a diminishing willingness or capacity to expend the resources necessary to train potential workers and recent graduates for such positions. Though ultimately the solution to this skill crisis may vary between industries, immediately the indication is that education must be a priority, particularly in Oregon where a lack of academic achievement is directly impacting the workforce and driving a state skill crisis.

Aside from encouraging Oregon students to achieve a higher degree of education, additional vocational programs need to be added to state curriculum to prepare students for positions in skilled manufacturing, healthcare and other industries.

In addition to training the future workforce, more affordable continuing education programs must be made available to adults with years of experience in “middle skilled” positions–particularly around technology–to prevent their skills from declining or becoming less applicable over time.

For now, many employers are training up current staff in less skilled positions for job openings that they are struggling to fill. In addition to this up-training methodology,  apprenticeship-like programs may see a comeback–particularly in fields such as skilled manufacturing services.

In Oregon, this means accessing training courses and obtaining a higher degree of education may become key to finding employment over the next few years.

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