NWA employers closing gap on skilled labor shortage, survey shows

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 784 views 

Northwest Arkansas companies have started to see a rise in the availability of skilled labor as the difficulty to find it has declined, according to a regional business survey. On Monday (March 19), the Northwest Arkansas Council released the results of the 2017 Employer Retention and Expansion survey.

In 2017, 46% of the largest employers in the survey had difficulty finding skilled labor, down from 54% in 2016 and 69% in 2015.

Mike Harvey, chief operating officer for the Northwest Arkansas Council, was encouraged by the three-year decline in the difficultly to find skilled labor. Workforce development programs at Northwest Technical Institute and NorthWest Arkansas Community College have likely started to provide employers with the needed workers. At the same time, school districts in Washington and Benton counties has expanded career education programs, providing students with certifications for occupations in health care, information technology, machine tooling, logistics, construction, diesel technology and welding.

Over the next three years, the 473 employers who took part in the 2017 survey expect to hire 2,498 people, the third highest number in six years, the survey shows. Over the same period, employers also expected to spend $747 million on expansion — the highest amount since the survey started in 2012. Over the period, 19% expect to expand, down from between 21% and 30% in the past five surveys.

In 2016, the 477 employers who took part in the survey expected to hire 3,621 people over the next three years. In 2015, employers expected to hire 3,161 people over the next three years.

According to the 2017 survey, state legislation and the work of educators to create and expand workforce training have contributed to a rise industry-related certifications offered to students. Legislative changes include eight new or modified workforce-related laws, which had been identified as priorities in the annual Employer Retention and Expansion surveys of hundreds of Northwest Arkansas companies over the past six years.

“Northwest Arkansas added dozens of programs in our secondary and post-secondary schools,” Harvey said. “Hundreds of students are enrolled and are starting to complete the programs, and that’s encouraging.”

“For years, our region has needed far more people learning certain skills than we have people with those skills. We need more certified nurse assistants, welders, diesel mechanics and just about any skilled trade you want to name. We still need far more, too, but we’re starting to close the gap between the number we need and the number our schools are producing.”

New state laws have allowed for student scholarships in workforce-related training programs at technical schools and community colleges, partnerships between multiple school districts to create a regional career center and removed seat-time requirements for public school to improve flexibility.

The annual Employer Retention and Expansion surveys help the council determine and resolve the issues affecting the Northwest Arkansas economy. Representatives of chambers of commerce in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Lowell, Siloam Springs and Springdale visit businesses for the survey. The businesses provide data on what’s impacting their business, growth plans and issues they face.

Following are other highlights of the survey data.
• Recruiting and retaining talent has been a top challenge for employers
• High fares at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) and limited public transportation options among top concerns
• Employers praised the business climate and economic and community stability.

Link here for a PDF copy of the report.