Difficulty Filling Job Vacancies Requiring Postsecondary Certifications

by Gail Krumenauer

April 2, 2018

Oregon’s labor market remained relatively robust through 2017. Year to year, nonfarm payroll job growth moderated to 2.1 percent in 2017, compared with roughly 3.3 percent in 2016. Yet hiring demand has remained strong. Private employers reported the largest number of annual vacancies (60,700) since the Employment Department’s survey began in 2008. Statewide, the unemployment rate hit record lows (4.1%) going back to at least 1976, when comparable records began.

Difficulty Finding Workers

With unemployment at record lows and payrolls continuing to expand, difficulty filling job vacancies seems to be peaking for Oregon employers. The share of job vacancies they reported as difficult to fill rose steadily each year, from 48 percent in 2013 to 64 percent in 2016. They also indicated about two out of three (64%) job openings were difficult to fill in 2017.

Challenges for Vacancies with Postsecondary Certifications

While overall business difficulty filling vacancies has increased in a robust economic expansion, some vacancies pose an even greater challenge. Consistently higher shares of job openings requiring a postsecondary certification or associate degree have been difficult to fill since at least 2013. In 2017, about three-fourths of vacancies with these educational requirements were identified as hard to fill. What are these jobs, and what are their challenges?

The number of difficult-to-fill job vacancies requiring a credential or certification beyond high school or an associate degree has remained a steady share (one-fifth) of all hard-to-fill job openings since 2013. While the share remains consistent, the number of difficult-to-fill job openings has grown over time. That means the number of challenging job vacancies with these educational requirements more than doubled, increasing from 3,200 in 2013 to 7,600 in 2017.
A handful of occupations consistently top the list. They represent a variety of jobs in the economy: electricians, registered nurses, nursing assistants, and truck drivers are among them. Massage therapists and firefighters are two other prominent occupations with difficult-to-fill vacancies and postsecondary education or associate degree requirements. They can show less consistently in the data than others due to circumstances such as self-employment or the timing and severity of wildfires.

Reasons for Difficulty

In an economy essentially at full employment and still expanding, vacancies have become increasingly difficult to fill due to a lack of applicants. At any given time in 2017, Oregon businesses reported difficulty filling 38,700 job vacancies. A lack of applicants accounted for 30 percent of all difficult-to-fill job vacancies, and a similar share (28%) of all hard-to-fill job vacancies with postsecondary or associate degree requirements.

Job openings requiring a certification beyond high school or associate degree are more likely to report a lack of qualified candidates or lack of certification. More than one-fourth (29%) of these job vacancies lacked qualified candidates, while applicants lacked a certification for 6 percent of them. By comparison, 17 percent of all difficult-to-fill job openings lacked qualified candidates, and 2 percent lacked applicants with proper certification.

Five occupations with postsecondary requirements and at least 100 or more hard-to-fill job vacancies fell into these two categories in 2017. They included surveyors, truck drivers, nursing assistants, medical assistants, and electricians. Some businesses cited a general lack of qualified candidates, or lack of specific experience or specialized knowledge. Others said applicants were unqualified because of their lack of specific license or certification, such as a commercial drivers’ license (CDL), or journeyman license. These types of licenses and certifications were also cited for difficult-to-fill vacancies with a lack of certification.

Postsecondary-requirement job vacancies were less likely to report unfavorable working conditions or low wages as primary reasons for difficulty than all hard-to-fill job openings. As educational requirements increase for job vacancies, the average wage offered generally rises as well.

Additional Information

The majority of challenging job vacancies to fill in the state can be attributed to reasons beyond the scope of training, certification, or workforce development program assistance. This subset of difficult-to-fill vacancies – with a lack of qualified candidates or lack of certification – may be an area where new or strengthened workforce training, educational programs, or other intervention might ease some business difficulty finding workers.

More information about Oregon’s job vacancies, including quarterly and annual indicators for Oregon and sub-state areas, can be found at QualityInfo.org under the Job Vacancy Survey section of the Publications page.

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