Part five of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York
Across the state, New York employers responding to a recent Public Policy Institute survey reported difficulty filling STEM positions, and they project that these workforce shortages will persist over the coming decade.
The hardest jobs to fill are skilled production vacancies, according to this study. One quarter of survey respondents reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions in this category, and 12% reported high difficulty. Engineering is a close second, with 20% of respondents reporting moderate or high difficulty filling positions. Fourteen percent of respondents reported moderate or high difficulty filling information technology positions, and 10% reported moderate or high difficulty filling positions in mathematics occupations. In all of these STEM categories, respondents were almost equally split between “high” and “moderate” difficulty. At least a handful of employers noted difficulty filling positions in each of the other listed STEM categories—environmental science, social science, architecture, and health—and several wrote in additional categories in which they were having trouble filling jobs, including telecommunications, machine operators, and technicians.
STEM positions comprise four of the top five categories of positions that New York employers are finding most difficult to fill. Seventeen percent of employers reported moderate or high difficulty filling non-STEM positions, with the bulk of those saying that they had “moderate” difficulty filling non-STEM positions.
New York’s employers do not expect the skills gap to go away anytime soon. When asked whether they anticipated new or continuing skills shortages over the next five to ten years, survey respondents identified several areas for concern. Skilled production is the category in which they anticipate the most severe ongoing shortage. Bruce Hamm, Director of Business Engagement at the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, points out that this is consistent with national data. “The average age of a skilled worker in manufacturing nationally is 56 years old,” he says. Taking into account both retirements and expansion in the manufacturing sector, a 2015 study projects a shortage of 2 million workers between 2015 and 2025.
Employers responding to the Public Policy Institute survey also predict severe shortages in engineering and information technology occupations. They anticipate a more moderate shortage in mathematics occupations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the same top four workforce categories in which employers reported the highest difficulty filling jobs currently. Employers are more optimistic about such occupations as social science and architecture.
Dan Bower, President of HUNT Engineers, Architects & Land Surveyors, underlined the shortage of engineering skills: “At HUNT currently, eight out of ten résumés we receive for engineering positions are from non-U.S. citizens.” In the short term, his 110-person company is considering partnering with an immigration law firm to facilitate obtaining visas and citizenship for these candidates.
Looking ahead to create a pipeline for its future workforce needs, HUNT is partnering with the Greater Southern Tier BOCES STEM Academy, a P-TECH early college high school that opened its doors in September 2016. At the end of six years, students will graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree and will be given a “first in line” opportunity for job placements with P-TECH corporate mentors. In future installments of this series, we will take a closer look at the business-led P-TECH initiative.
Read part four of the series here.