Part four of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York
New York has some of the world’s top universities and attracts highly credentialed scientists from around the globe, so how can we have a shortage of workers with STEM skills? The answer has to do with the fact that New York is a large and diverse state, with tremendous variation in demographics and economic conditions from region to region.
In the Public Policy’s 2017 skills gap survey, we defined STEM according to the Standard Occupation Classification Policy Committee scheme. Under our definition, STEM covers a wide array of occupations—from manufacturing technicians to nurses, from civil engineers to computer programmers—and at credential levels from associate’s degree to Ph.D. In some of these fields, there are regional shortages, while in others, employers have no difficulty finding talented employees. Thus, rather than statewide, across-the-board shortages, this study and others have found local or regional skills mismatches, varying by industry.
In our survey, executives reported the highest difficulty filling positions in Western New York, where one-third of survey respondents reported high difficulty and 62% reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions. Similarly, in the Southern Tier, one-third of respondents reported high difficulty, and 45% reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions. In the Capital Region, one-quarter of respondents reported high difficulty and 63% reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions. In the Finger Lakes, 64% of survey respondents reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions, but only one of those reported high difficulty.
The economic effects of the skills gap take several forms, starting with a reduction in employers’ ability to meet the needs of their customers. “We’re finding it hurts the manufacturers because you’re having machines sit idle,” says Bruce Hamm, Director of Business Engagement at the Manufacturers Association of Central New York. “People lose out on orders because they can’t fill them.”
The fact that skills mismatches are localized does not make them less consequential to New York’s economy. An employer struggling to find skilled workers upstate is unlikely to take comfort in the fact that the very same skills are in oversupply in Long Island. Some workers may be willing to uproot to a distant town they’ve never heard of, but it is equally likely that the employer may go out of business or relocate to another state.
In addition to the impact on New York’s existing employers, the availability of a skilled workforce—or lack thereof—has an effect on economic development efforts. “The first thing that companies do when they’re looking to relocate into an area is to look at what the workforce looks like,” says Hamm. “So if New York’s economic developers are looking for companies to come here, we’ve got to demonstrate that we’ve got the workforce. The skills shortage is all over the country. If you can show you’re actually doing something about it, you’re on the good side of the equation.”
Read part three of the series here.