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Many industries face difficulty finding qualified workers
What's more, they are willing to negotiate both salary and working conditions in order to fill those positions. That spells good news for Oklahomans seeking job opportunities, but employers are consistently finding it thorny to find those quality workers.
"I don't see basic skills as being difficult to find; specialized skills are very difficult to find," said Sheila Lawrence, director of recruiting for Express Personnel in Oklahoma City.
"What are the skills employers look for the most? The same skills employers have sought for decades: good employment history, proficient with technologies, fast learners, leadership potential, professional attitude, good work ethic and effective communication."
According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the non-seasonally adjusted, averaged unemployment rate in Oklahoma was 4.1 percent in 2006 and 4.3 percent in 2007.
In January, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, and in July, it was 4.0 percent, but Oklahoma consistently remains below the national average for unemployment.
According to the state Department of Commerce, since 2006, the state has gained more than 20,000 jobs, many of which require higher job skills.
That trend isn't likely to end.
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce also estimates 154,000 new jobs will become available between now and 2014, but the demand is more than 50 percent larger than the population growth in the same time period.
Although industries are finding it increasingly difficult to find and retain quality employees today, the trend suggests that challenge will continue well into the future.
A telling survey
The Governor's Council on Workforce and Economic Development sent the Workforce Development Survey 2006 to 35,444 businesses across the state, and found that recruitment of qualified employees was the biggest challenge facing hiring managers.
More than 50 percent of the Oklahoma firms responding to the survey said finding applicants with job-specific, problem-solving and communication skills was difficult, and 30 percent said they chose to increase recruiting efforts or hired a less qualified applicant due to those difficulties.
"What we see is not only a lack of qualified personnel, but companies don't have enough manpower to help the hiring director sort through the chaff," said Wolf Gulger, president of Wolf Gugler and Associates Ltd., a talent recruitment firm. "If you have more than one company that seeks that god or goddess employee, then they have to step up to the plate to recruit, and not just with cash, but with perks and benefits, too."
According to the same survey, certain industries had more difficulty in finding qualified applicants than others.
The industries of utilities, transportation and warehousing, science and public administration reported having a hard time finding applicants with appropriate communication skills. Difficulty finding applicants with job specific skills in those same areas was also higher than other industries.
"Energy and engineering is very hard to fill. Oklahoma is very picked over, and therefore, we have to lure qualified candidates back to the state or help them understand what great lifestyle advantages there are here," said Lawrence. "Again, almost 100 percent of our clients want experienced energy professionals and engineers. Newly graduated engineers are snapped up right off campuses by companies all over the country if they have decent grades."
When faced with hiring problems, the industries of agriculture and utilities were more likely to hire less qualified applicants to fill positions.
Oklahoma isn't the only state feeling the pressure. According to a survey released this month from Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com, 59 percent of national hiring managers said finding skilled professionals was a challenge with six out of 10 employers surveyed saying that at least a quarter of all applicants were not qualified.
Additionally, 56 percent of hiring managers indicated Generation Y employees were the most difficult to recruit.
"The Oklahoma Department of Commerce, generally, and Secretary of Commerce Natalie Shirley, specifically, are committed to building a knowledge-based economy in Oklahoma that will depend on highly skilled workers," said Beth Schmidt, marketing director for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
"We hear every day from businesses that recruiting for engineers, accountants, health care workers, IT professionals, project managers and other knowledge-based jobs is a challenge."
Therefore, she said, perks such as flex time is becoming more popular. Increased salaries and twice annual raises is more common, larger contributions to matching 401k plans, workout/fitness centers onsite or offering memberships and job shares are not uncommon in some industries, Lawrence said.