Help Wanted in Eastern Oregon

by Christopher Rich

March 4, 2019

Results from the 2018 Eastern Oregon Job Vacancy Survey suggest demand for workers has slowed since 2017. Vacancies for 2018 remained high however, at nearly double that of 2016. Our regional job vacancy survey is an annual publication using data gathered from private employers during each quarter of the year. We mailed 1,300 surveys to employers in Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties and asked about job vacancies they had at that time. We used the 520 responses we received (a 41% response rate) to estimate the average number of vacancies during the year. The following is a summary of the results.

Fewer Vacancies in Most Industries

Eastern Oregon had fewer job vacancies overall in 2018. At any given time during the year, the region had roughly 1,629 job openings compared with 2,307 at any given time during 2017. This represents a decrease of 29 percent, or 678 fewer openings.
The largest decrease in vacancies came in health care and social assistance. Employers in the industry reported 559 fewer vacancies (-71%) than they reported the previous year. Health care and social assistance is a powerhouse though, employing more than 15 percent of Eastern Oregon’s private-sector workforce. Although employers in the industry reported fewer job openings this time around, demand for workers remained relatively high. The industry was still near the top of the list for vacancies, falling to third in 2018 from first in 2017.

Notable decreases also occurred in several smaller industries. Wholesale trade saw a 63 percent decrease in vacancies, professional and technical services saw a 40 percent decrease in vacancies (as did other services), and information saw a 97 percent decrease in vacancies, averaging just one job opening at any given time.  

Not all industries reported fewer vacancies. Financial activities, construction, leisure and hospitality, and natural resources and mining all reported an increase in job vacancies during the year. Goods producing industries such as construction, and natural resources and mining continue to see growth in the region. These two industries accounted for over one-fourth of job openings in 2018. Leisure and hospitality also continues to gain speed during the ongoing expansion, accounting for 14 percent of the region’s job openings.

Fewer Vacancies in Most Occupational Groups

Among the broad occupational groups, health care occupations along with community and social service occupations saw the largest declines in vacancies in 2018. Job vacancies for health care practitioners and technical occupations fell 83 percent (-314 openings); vacancies for health care support occupations fell 76 percent (-99 openings); and vacancies for community and social service occupations fell 88 percent (-91 openings).

On the rise were vacancies in food service as well as vacancies in the trades. Job vacancies for food prep and serving related occupations rose 56 percent (+88 openings); vacancies for construction and extraction occupations rose 61 percent (+54 openings); and vacancies for installation, maintenance, and repair occupations rose 35 percent (+33 openings).

With the 2017 vacancy survey, occupational groups with the highest number of vacancies were also those with the largest vacancy increases. However, in 2018 this was not the case. Food prep and serving related occupations moved into the top three for total job vacancies, having increased in vacancies in 2018. On the other hand, transportation and material moving occupations as well as farming, fishing, and forestry occupations remained in the top three, while having decreased in vacancies.

Five individual occupations accounted for nearly one-third of all vacancies in 2018. The top three were related to production and shipping: laborers and freight, stock, and material movers (153 vacancies); packaging and filling machine operators and tenders (113 vacancies); heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (87 vacancies). Number one and number three were also number one and number three among the most difficult-to-fill vacancies for the year.
Fewer Vacancies with Higher Education Requirement

A larger share of vacancies required no education beyond high school: 78 percent in 2018 compared with 66 percent in 2017. Along these lines, vacancies requiring a high school diploma slipped to 25 percent compared with 29 percent the previous year. Vacancies with no requirement grew to 53 percent in 2018 compared with 37 percent in 2017.

The share of vacancies requiring previous experience dropped over the year: 42 percent required previous experience in 2018 compared with 53 percent in 2017. Vacancies that required less than a year of experience saw the largest decrease, dropping to 9 percent in 2018 from 28 percent in 2017. Vacancies that required one to five years of experience increased to 27 percent in 2018 from 23 percent in 2017.

Wages offered to fill vacancies remained relatively stable from 2017 to 2018. At the low end of the wage scale, the number of vacancies was nearly the same over the year. There were fewer vacancies, however, at all other wage levels. In 2018, roughly six out of 10 vacancies paid less than $15 per hour (same as 2017). The share of vacancies that paid $25 per hour or more fell to 8 percent from 15 percent in 2017, while those that paid between $15 and $25 rose to 19 percent from 12 percent in 2017.
Vacancies that required little experience in combination with a high school diploma or less were the most prevalent in 2018. Job vacancies that required a high school diploma offered an average wage of $13.99 per hour; 66 percent of these openings required previous experience. Job vacancies with no education requirement offered an average wage of $12.20 per hour; only 16 percent of these openings required previous experience.

Vacancies that required a higher level of education and experience were the most likely to be full-time, permanent positions with higher wages. These vacancies were the most difficult to fill. At any given time, just 2 percent of job openings required a bachelor’s degree or higher. These vacancies offered an average wage of $30.28 per hour; 73 percent required previous experience and 80 percent were difficult to fill. Roughly 17 percent of vacancies required some type of postsecondary education or a certification. These vacancies offered an average wage of $23.59 per hour; 85 percent required previous experience and 75 percent were difficult to fill.

Something to Consider

Since the job vacancy estimates are based on point-in-time counts of job openings during the year, some year-to-year choppiness should be expected for individual occupations. This can affect changes in occupational groups as well as changes at the industry level. Taken as a whole, the results of the survey suggest that demand for workers in Eastern Oregon decreased in 2018.


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