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More jobs left vacant statewide


Employers are reporting a lack of qualified candidates to fill the positions available

As the unemployment rate continues to drop and more people find work, one might expect the number of job vacancies to decline.

It turns out that the opposite is true.

A recent job vacancy survey conducted by the Oregon Employment Department revealed that about 32,000 positions statewide remain unfilled as of the fall of 2013. The trend of declining unemployment and increased job vacancies has occurred since 2011 at which time there were six unemployed individuals per job vacancy. The ratio has since dropped to 3 to 1.

Oregon Employment Department Economist Jessica Nelson attributes the escalating job vacancies to a lack of qualified workers or adequate job experience.

“For a given job, finding that correct candidate is something that employers, and training providers and policymakers are thinking about a lot,” she said.

Damon Runberg, an Employment Department economist for the Central Oregon region, noted that a deficient workforce could adversely affect a local job market.

“That forces employers to look elsewhere and either bring people in, or in some cases, a new business might see that and say I am not going to open here,” he said.

Since potential workers lack the skills for certain occupations, some are now taking steps to improve their chances of finding work.

Suzie Kristensen, Central Oregon Community College campus administrator, has encountered students who have left the workforce and are seeking to improve their skills in hopes of landing another job.

“What I hear is purely anecdotal,” she stressed. “You just kind of speak to students and hear what they are doing.”

Kristensen went on to point out that the average age of local community college students suggests an emphasis on students retooling their workforce skills.

“This year, we had more high school students than we have ever had. Prior to that, our average age of our student was 39,” she said. “So that kind of shows you that the age of our student skews a little bit older than a traditional 18-year-old college student, which kind of gives you the indication that people are returning to school after being out in the workforce.”

While some job seekers lack the skills needed for certain occupations, others have become more selective and might eschew certain positions in hopes of finding a better one.

“They do have a little more power in the job market,” Nelson said. “As the number or unemployed comes down, we are seeing more people start to voluntarily leave their current positions and look for work elsewhere.”

Another factor potentially driving job vacancy numbers is a decline in the labor force, a measure that includes unemployed individuals who are seeking work and those who have a job.

“We know in Oregon, at least 50 percent, if not a little bit more of the labor force decline, are baby boomers retiring,” Runberg said. “We can presume that number is higher than 50 percent in Crook County because they have an older population.”

While job vacancies numbers are climbing, Nelson believes the concurrent decline in unemployment has resulted in a more stable market than in recent recession years, particularly in Central Oregon. The region has seen a 50-percent year-over-year increase in job vacancies as job growth has improved throughout multiple industries.

“I believe Central Oregon job growth has been the fastest in the state over the last year,” Nelson said.