The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.
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Southeastern States Mind the (Skills) Gap
During the past few years, we have heard from a significant number of regional business contacts about the challenges they experience filling certain positions and concerns about a skills gap facing the Southeast. We heard this from various industries, most often about engineering, construction, and IT jobs. The most recent Southeastern Insights mentions this widespread issue.
This skills shortage situation is not unique to the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a state-by-state analysis last month measuring performance in a number of areas that contribute to economic prosperity. Their key conclusion reiterates our contacts’ concerns: that mounting skilled-labor shortages are on the horizon to such an extent that they may soon hinder economic growth. According to the study, the current skills gap dilemma is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers retire.
Fortunately, there’s a bright side: many states have recognized this situation and have taken steps to address the ostensibly approaching workforce crisis. Many of our contacts from both private and public sectors pointed to joint initiatives created by states and businesses designed to confront and abate the situation; which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study says is essential to closing the gaps. Below is a sample, extracted from the study, of some of the efforts Sixth District states have taken:
- In 2013, the state launched a College and Career Ready Task Force charged with identifying ways to better prepare students for the workforce by training them in the skills demanded by growing industries across the state.
- New and expanding businesses can get workforce development services through the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which offers services to businesses in need of skilled workers, including preemployment selection and training, leadership development courses, and third-party process improvement assessments.
- The Alabama Technology Network provides skills training for the manufacturing and high technology workforce. The network connects businesses to the portfolio of training resources and programs provided by the state’s colleges and universities, offering services through regional centers.
- The Go Build Alabama initiative works to attract talented workers to construction and skilled trades.
- Quick Response Training enables new and expanding businesses in need of training to partner with community colleges and other educational institutions in the state to develop and deliver workforce training programs.
- The Incumbent Worker Training program supports training the existing workforce to enhance and maintain competitiveness.
- The Career and Professional Education Act guides Florida’s efforts to diversify its economy and develop a more skilled workforce by encouraging collaboration among education, industry, workforce, and economic development stakeholders from across the state.
- In early 2014, the state approved a $44.7 million Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s South Campus, providing state-of-the-art facilities aimed at expanding the pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to collectively as STEM).
- Groundbreaking also took place for the Georgia BioScience Training Center, which will support training for companies that choose to locate within the state. Georgia Quick Start, the state’s job training program, will build and operate the state-of-the-art biotech training center.
- Via the Small Business Employee Training Program, employers can receive up to $3,000 to defray the costs of off-the-shelf training programs for an existing employee.
- The Louisiana Workforce Commission established Workforce Partners to recognize businesses that have committed to building a “job ready” workforce in the state through support and training.
- The Strategies to Empower People program provides access to job training, job readiness support, vocational education programs, and a variety of other skills-development services for those receiving government assistance.
- The Workforce Investment Network consists of more than 60 training and employment centers around the state where employers and job seekers can access services like training, job postings, on-the-job training programs, employment screening services, and job placement assistance.
- The Mississippi Development Authority also maintains a team of workforce specialists who work with colleges, businesses, workforce development professionals, and other stakeholders to identify resources useful to a particular business. The authority also builds partnerships to pursue needed training services.
- The University of Mississippi maintains a Professional and Workforce Development program, offering online enrichment courses, certification programs, and outreach services, bringing tailored training programs directly to the employer.
- The Tennessee Job Skills grant program offers support to technology companies that create “high-skill, high-wage” jobs, reimbursing eligible costs incurred in training development implementation.
- Entrepreneurs in need of quick turnaround in receiving support for training costs can make use of the state’s Job Based Training Reimbursement program, which provides support within the first 90 days after a new job is created and training starts.
- The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program offers employers state support to cover costs for classroom instruction, on-the-job training, training-related travel, training vendors, and development of training materials and programming.
Sixth District states appear to be on a solid track to address skills gap challenges, combining investment in training, education, and business assistance as a long-term workforce development strategy. Time will tell if the investment pays off (we should know sooner rather than later, as boomers are expected to start retiring in droves).
To learn more about states’ efforts, as well as their rankings across five policy areas—talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure—check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s study. There’s also a nifty interactive map you can use to view state rankings and data easily.
By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch
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