Workforce Shortage and ‘Skills Gap’ Stifling Business Growth in Grand Forks, Survey Finds

To solve this problem – and build a case for a Vocational and Technical Training Center project in Grand Forks – EDC received a grant from the North Dakota Department of Commerce to hire Mark Schill, vice president of research, Praxis Research Group, to analyze data availability on the labor market and conduct surveys among students and industry.

The poll results will be used to bolster a $ 10 million grant application that the Grand Forks School District plans to submit for part of the $ 70 million the 2021 North Dakota Legislature has set aside for vocational centers. and techniques. The request, due December 1, must include matching cash or in-kind contributions from public and private sources.

A steering committee, which includes representatives from business, industry, healthcare, manufacturing, education and the North Dakota Job Service, oversees several sub-committees working on aspects of the grant. After considering several options, the committee selected the former Holiday Inn site, near the intersection of Gateway Drive and I-29, as the prime location for the Career Impact Academy project.

Define the problem

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“I would say the workforce is largely the biggest challenge in almost every community – and nationally,” said Schill, whose firm works with various clients on economic development issues. “There is a lot of talk these days about changing demographics and the aging and retirement of the baby boomer generation. “

He said there simply weren’t enough people to replace them, especially in senior management positions.

“We’re seeing all of these other national trends in the workforce – declining national labor participation rates, young men leaving the workforce. Certainly the pandemic has exacerbated this to some extent and the opioid epidemic is also seen as a factor. So all of these things kind of add up, ”he said.

“And perhaps most critically, for example, the rate of participation in the national labor market has been declining since the 1970s.”

Schill’s survey was sent to entities on a list provided by EDC and the Chamber of Commerce. These entities hire different professions and they represent “the other side of the labor force equation – those who seek to create the demand for workers”.

About 88% of those surveyed were Grand Forks employers – “not just private sector companies, but also any employer that hires, including school districts, government entities or any other nonprofit or organization in that industry. type, ”he said.

Of the 115 responses, about two-thirds indicated that the labor shortage is preventing their business from growing. In total, respondents said they had nearly 1,700 jobs that could be filled if labor shortages were not an issue.

Most of the responses, 69%, were from for-profit companies, 23% from nonprofits and 8% from government entities, Schill said.

A total of 84% said it is “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to recruit and hire employees for their organization. On average, respondents had 15.2 open positions that they would immediately fill if they could find qualified workers.

Schill was not surprised by these results.

He said persistent unemployment in Grand Forks and the region creates a situation in which “many employers are constantly looking for employees.”

Most urgent shortages

Schill’s survey also reveals that, according to respondents, the most difficult positions to fill are in management categories; installation and maintenance; and commercial and financial.

Respondents ranked the top three barriers to hiring as follows:

  • “Lack of locally trained workers”, 54%.
  • “What we can afford to pay”, 32%.
  • “Lack of awareness of the opportunities in my sector”, 31%.

And a worrying barrier to growth, according to business leaders and other organizations, is the lack of awareness, especially among high school students, of the types of well-paying and in-demand jobs that are available in their fields. . Raising awareness among students “will be an important part” as part of the roll-out of CTE’s plans, said Becca Cruger, EDC’s workforce development manager.

A skills gap also exists, Schill said.

“You can have workers looking to learn skills to adapt to new jobs that appear – and so that’s where this (investigative) effort fits, trying to do the best job possible to train and provide the necessary specialized training. It’s constantly changing, it’s a moving target, ”he said. “We do not necessarily have know the jobs of tomorrow, and trying to stay on top is a challenge.

Public and private support

Schill’s survey not only explored the nature of workforce challenges, but also respondents’ attitudes towards private sector support to address them.

Nearly half, 48%, said they strongly or somewhat agreed that employers should financially support career academy programs at Grand Forks schools, Schill said.

Almost 70% of respondents said they strongly agree or somewhat agree that public investment in vocational and technical education is appropriate.

Labor shortages are not unique to this region, but are slowing or impeding the growth of businesses and industry nationwide, Schill said.

The national unemployment rate is 5.2%, while in this area it hovers around 4%, Cruger said. It was lower than in recent years.

The goal of the Career Impact Academy is to “build a future labor pool so that children are ready for careers and college,” she said.

High school students could get more double credits – to meet high school and college demands – which could speed up their entry into the workforce. Cyber ​​security is one example of the many high-demand and high-paying careers that may not require a four-year degree, she said.


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