Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why is it Difficult to Fill Job Vacancies in Oregon?

Each year we summarize the key findings from our job vacancy survey into a report, with specific emphasis on the challenges businesses face filling their job vacancies. In 2017, Oregon businesses reported 60,700 job vacancies at any given time in 2017. Of these vacancies, 38,700 job openings (64%) were reported as difficult to fill.

For each of their difficult-to-fill vacancies, employers offered open-ended responses to identify what they thought was the primary reason for the unfilled opening. A lack of applicants was the most common challenge filling vacancies. Nearly one out of every three (30%) difficult-to-fill job vacancies had an insufficient number of applicants or no applicants at all. That makes sense, given the state's continued job growth and historic low unemployment rate. The point was made clear by the construction business that was having difficulty hiring heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers because, “The heating industry is busy and anyone who has experience is already working elsewhere.”

A lack of qualified candidates was the second most common reason given by businesses for their difficulty filling vacancies. It was the primary reason given for 6,100 vacancies and represented 17 percent of all difficult-to-fill vacancies. Some referenced very specific qualifications or specialized knowledge within a particular occupation and specific setting, such as the bank with a difficult-to-fill loan officer vacancy that mentioned, “Mortgage underwriting with government loan experience is rare and in high demand.” 

Unfavorable working conditions was the main reason businesses reported difficulty filling nearly 5,000 vacancies, and represented 14 percent of all hard-to-fill vacancies. These vacancies were for jobs that employers candidly reported were not the best working conditions for most people because they had inconsistent shifts, part-time only shifts, or were physically demanding jobs. Examples included vacancies at a Mid-Valley farm where the job was physically demanding and the workers “must be comfortable working with chickens, around manure, etc.” 

Businesses said the lack of soft skills among applicants was the primary reason for difficulty filling nearly 4,000 vacancies, which was 11 percent of all difficult-to-fill vacancies. Soft skills include professional competencies required for a job, such as communication, interpersonal, and social skills. In the Job Vacancy Survey it included employer responses related to subjective traits such as honesty, reliability, and motivation. It also included more quantifiable traits such as having a valid driver’s license and clean driving record, passing a background check, and passing a drug screen.

A lack of previous work experience was given by business as the primary cause that 3,200 vacancies were difficult to fill, which totaled 9 percent of all difficult-to-fill vacancies. Most businesses value applicants with previous work experience and it is a big contributor in making vacancies difficult to fill. There are far fewer experienced workers looking for jobs now than a few years ago when the unemployment rate was much higher, and this is making it difficult to fill vacancies across a wide variety of occupations.

Occupations with the largest number of vacancies that, according to businesses, were difficult-to-fill because of low wages, tended to (understandably) be low-wage occupations. Personal care aides topped the list with 392 vacancies that were difficult to fill due to low wages. 

You can find more information about Oregon's difficult-to-fill job vacancies in the full report on Oregon's Current Workforce Gaps, written by State Employment Economist Nick Beleiciks.

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