In the wake of the recession, with unemployment just under 10 percent, it would seem employers would have no problem filling positions. But though Nevada’s employment base is growing again, it remains below pre-recession levels and of people who have gone back to work, a disproportionate share have gone back part-time or in jobs that don’t fully utilize their skills. Add in the number of people who classify as under-employed, and unemployment numbers stand at just under 20 percent, according to Jeremy Aguero, principal of Applied Analysis, a data analysis firm in Southern Nevada. “Jobs are being created, but are they the right jobs? And do we have the skill sets in order to populate the jobs that are in the greatest demand?”
Sixty-five percent of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. today require a bachelor’s degree or higher, yet statewide only approximately 24 percent of Nevada’s adult population has that qualification, and our graduation rate is the lowest in the country, a combination that means we are behind relative to the skills that are in demand by industry today.
Efforts are being made to train Nevada’s workforce. There are internships, training programs within companies seeking to promote from within, talent development programs and workforce training efforts through government and private agencies.
“We’re the only market I can think of where we have an unemployment market of roughly 10 percent and I have businesses tell me every day they can’t find people to hire. That’s because of the disconnect. We’re not creating jobs for people who are unemployed, we’re creating jobs in the new economy, which is much more technology-oriented, and has greater demands in terms of human capital than other jobs did in the past,” said Aguero. “So what I think you’re seeing is businesses of all kinds essentially identifying qualified employees and doing whatever they have to do to be certain they retain them.”
Retain, Re-Train, Re-Skill
In today’s market, hiring and retaining employees looks different than it did five years ago. Training employees and promoting from within is more important. Not only employees but employers have had to redefine and reinvent themselves. Business owners have had to identify the skills they really need in employees and assess their employee training mechanisms.
“Both employers and employees have had to reinvent themselves and understand transferable skills,” said Monica Ford, president, CEO, Nevada Partners, a non-profit agency that works to improve education and employment opportunities for Nevadans. “Employers are oftentimes doing more with less and really having to be efficient and effective. If they’re going to be successful, they have to be strategic.”
For individuals seeking to upgrade skills as they re-enter the workforce, there’s been a shift in workforce training needs since the recession started and possibly again since economic recovery began.
“For a year or two we had people trying, maybe through credit or non-credit courses, to sharpen their skills and stay in their comfort zone,” said Dr. Darren Divine, VP, Academic Affairs, College of Southern Nevada (CSN). “After two years we started seeing wholesale shifts.”
In some cases, those shifts involved job seekers looking to industries they hadn’t worked in, but which were still actively hiring, like healthcare.
Those weren’t the only changes. “We were seeing people leaving the state flat out for hopefully greener pastures or completely changing careers,” said Divine. That trend peaked about two years ago, and has slowed, but unemployment and underemployment are both still high – there’s a need for workforce training both for job seekers and for businesses looking to hire in Nevada.
Community colleges play a vital role for both businesses and individuals re-inventing themselves. For individuals, Northern Nevada’s Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) offers fast track skills training through the Workforce Development and Continuing Education side, programs geared to giving people skills they can use immediately to move forward in existing or new careers.
For the needs of the business itself, community colleges offer customized training, working with business owners to provide goal-oriented employee training.
“We design training around the goals of the company, so if they’re deciding on a new direction or a different type of training, we bring everybody up to speed,” said Kathy Berry, marketing manager, TMCC Workforce Development and Continuing Education. “We do training 24/7 so if someone says they need training at their business at midnight, we can do that. It’s pretty much like the company says, ‘this is what we want, help us.’ We do what they need so they don’t have to keep a training program division in their company.”
Education and Workforce Development
From an economic development standpoint, workforce development and diversification is singularly the most important facet. Developing a skilled, qualified workforce is a significant step in presenting Nevada as a business-friendly, tax-friendly environment where businesses can relocate or expand and get their need for trained employees met. Nevada needs to expand and train its workforce in a way that will benefit the economy, the businesses and the individuals in the state.
Bringing in new employers is great, said Aguero, but the best chances for economic growth come from finding ways for companies that are already here to do more and to exploit the talent we have in the state. That’s best done by giving businesses the opportunity to expand and creating economic incentives for them to train and retain their employees, by educating our workforce from K-12 and through higher education levels, as well as through workforce development programs.
When a new business is planning to relocate in Nevada, an employer representative may contact one of the community colleges regarding workforce training programs. Most often there are existing programs in place; other times colleges can put together specialized training programs and even help assess the skill level of a potential pool of employees.
Economic development authorities, under the purview of the Governor’s Office, and higher education have been partnering for years to create workforce development programs to benefit new and existing businesses. Since the recession, such partnerships have escalated as businesses struggle to find qualified employees and individuals look to polish existing skills or learn new.
“I think community colleges are reaching out more to business and industry than they were 10 years ago,” said Berry. “Everyone is working more closely together to get out of the recession and train our workforce on relevant training.”
Relevant being the key word. There’s been a shift in industry needs. But is it possible to forecast what skill sets will be needed for businesses that will relocate or expand in Nevada in the future? Maybe not forecast – maybe create. Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development has used the 2011 Brookings Report Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada to identify seven industry sectors in the state, then added two by separating mining into mining materials and manufacturing, and adding agriculture.
“The purpose of that is economic development,” said Frank Woodbeck, director, Department of Education, Training and Rehabilitation. DETR works with the Governor’s economic development team to “Carve out what training is necessary for entry-level and mid-level positions in those industries so a company coming here has a qualified workforce from which to hire.” Identifying specific industries narrows down the focus so agencies can determine where to spend workforce training dollars. The nine sectors are aerospace and defense, agriculture, IT, energy, healthcare, logistics and operations, manufacturing, mining, and tourism and gaming. An industry sector council has been formed for each, made up of 22 to 25 individuals, over 50 percent from the industry itself and the other half from labor, local and state elected officials, and all forms of public education.
“The primary question employers or companies are asking when they’re looking at moving to Nevada is ‘Do I have a qualified workforce I can hire from?’ Consequently, we work hand-in-hand with economic development to answer that question for them and assure them we will provide as much support as possible for development of that workforce,” said Woodbeck.
Companies relocating in Nevada may already have proprietary training they’ve developed themselves for their processes and procedures. That training wouldn’t be available through the community college system, but further training for new hires could be. In cases where the business moving to Nevada needs specialized training that can then be expanded once the employee is in house, DETR can co-invest and pay for a portion of the additional training.
By working with the industry sectors, said Divine, CSN is able to graduate students who can plug immediately into Nevada’s job market and economy. For example, health sciences graduates a number of high quality nurses who can head directly into the workplace. Nevada’s nursing certification program ranks fourth in the country.
CSN recently signed a participation agreement with the City of Las Vegas, according to Dan Gouker, executive director for CSN’s Division of Apprenticeship Studies. The college will occupy 10,000-square-feet on the third floor of the new City Hall. Businesses completing business license requirements will have the option of instantly contacting a community college regarding workforce training needs.
Promoting from Within
When it comes to promoting from within, one of the best ways is through an incentive program, according to Gouker. Businesses that want to create in-house workforce development or encourage employees to learn new skills should offer encouragement, chances at advancement or pay raises.
“Probably the biggest thing to help is the encouragement to allow employees to have time away from work to take the class or incentive programs. Both are very effective. If we get an employer who agrees to both, it’s almost a match made in heaven.”
Businesses need to acknowledge the value when their employees seek additional training and skill development, said Marie Murgolo-Poore, Ph.D., Dean, TMCC School of Business and Entrepreneurship. When an employee spends the time and money to upgrade skills or learn new, and sees that any applicant off the street receives the same opportunities, then it’s hard to convince other employees to seek more training.
Employers should consider succession planning and long-term needs and evaluate from current employee pools how to promote from within. Then the decision can be made when and whether to offer tuition reimbursement and other types of workforce development and company training.
A skills gap analysis can help employees determine where they need additional training or need to learn new skills, and can assist employers in being very clear about what their workforce needs actually are. For employers, said Ford, this translates into making certain their employees have the skills they need and how they can be trained if they don’t. Programs like Nevada Partners can provide job training, career preparation and education for potential and existing employees. Nevada Partners offers services cost-free to both employers and employees, covering everything for workers from tax preparation to home buyer assistance, all services uniquely tailored to individuals.
In Nevada’s slower industries, those not recovering at the same pace as other industries, workforce development often means employees learning new skills and relying on transferrable skills.
The construction industry in Nevada took a beating when the housing bubble burst, and people who spent their entire careers in the field now need to reinvent themselves.
“They’re used to wages for construction,” said Ford. “If you’re used to $40 or $50 a hour, going into the green economy or another sector that pays $10 to $15 an hour or even minimum wage, that in itself is very difficult. That’s why we have to talk about a stop gap approach, this is what you can do and how to find multiple streams of income, things like that.”
The main objective of Nevada Partners’ programs is self-sufficiency but the organization can provide a bridge to success, giving potential employees the skills they need to help the community thrive.
Some employees displaced from other industries that are recovering slowly, such as hospitality and commercial real estate, are building on existing skills and making moves to other careers in gaming and tourism or moving to positions like property management.
There are some indicators that Nevada is climbing out of the recession. NevadaWorks is the local workforce investment board that prepares Nevada’s workforce to meet the needs of businesses. The agency is geared toward helping the displaced worker who has lost a job in the downsizing or rightsizing of a company, and to assist individuals who are chronically unemployed and face multiple barriers to employment. The agency partners with organizations like Job Opportunities in Nevada (JOiN) to provide services. NevadaWorks CEO John Thurman said in Eastern Nevada, where mining is doing well and unemployment is lower than in other parts of the state, organizations that received moneys through the Workforce Investment Act are actually having a difficult time finding clients who need their services.
Workforce development in Nevada has shifted to a sector specific approach,” said Ford. At the heart of the sector specific approach is the identification of economic sectors of growth, and the comparison of existing workforce skill sets with needed workforce skill sets. Nevada is on the right path for developing workforce training to meet the new economy’s needs.