Economic Development

Job Skills Gap a Growing Concern in Cities

Cities coming out of the recession are facing new challenges with matching their workforce to available jobs, a problem that could be an early indicator of a growing national problem.
by | April 5, 2013

Cities coming out of the recession are facing new challenges with matching their workforce to available jobs, a problem that could be an early indicator of a growing national problem, a new survey has found.

Half of city officials across the nation (53 percent) report that current local workforce skills are “posing a problem for the economic health of their communities,” according to the National League of Cities 2013 Local Economic Conditions Survey released Thursday. In addition, nearly nine in 10 city officials (88 percent) note that workforce alignment has not improved over the past year while eight in 10 (82 percent) report that the percentage of the population with a post-secondary degree has not increased.

The growing lag between workforce skills and employer demand is slowing the employment rate recovery and stalling median income growth, even as cities are reporting improvement in other key areas like real estate values and housing starts.

“What we’re seeing is 15 percent of all [our] vacancies are quite frankly hard to fill because of this skill gap issue,” Chris Coleman, mayor of St. Paul, Minn., and NLC’s first vice president said during a conference call with reporters.

Nationally, it's estimated that up to 600,000 jobs are unfulfilled because employers aren’t finding workers with the skills they need to fill those jobs, according to a separate report by Deloitte Consulting for the Manufacturing Institute.

The NLC survey’s findings could provide a looking glass into future national trends, said Christy McFarland, interim director of the center for research and innovation and author of the report. The survey was conducted in January and sent to chief elected officials in 1,127 cities asking for assessments of their city’s local economic conditions in 2012 and anticipated spending and policy priorities in 2013. The response rate was 28 percent, or 310 cities.

“These are early indicators of economic trends that may not have bubbled up to the national scene,” McFarland said. “Cities are often first to see challenges … with residents and businesses.”

NLC is lobbying Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which provides increased flexibility for state and local officials to establish broad-based labor market systems using federal job training funds for adults, dislocated workers and youth. That includes directing money to community college programs that teach skills needed by local industries.

NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony said he is pushing for more local government input on that act’s future.

“Local leaders are … important to that element,” he said. “So for the Workforce Investment Act being considered right now, it’s important to us to make sure we are at the table and right now we aren’t.”

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