Workforce Development for Economic Developers Part 2: Skill Gaps and Skilled Worker Shortages

Workforce Development for Economic Developers

Part 2: Skill Gaps and Skilled Worker Shortages

In 2013 there were numerous reports and articles on Skill Gaps and Skilled Worker Shortages in the U.S. Many of the reports and articles state employers today are having difficulty finding workers with the skills the job requires and in the future finding good talent will be even more challenging as the skills needed to perform on the job will increase. There are other articles on Skill Gaps that deal with individuals not having the skills to be successful in a specific occupation. At SSG, we believe economic developers should focus on Skilled Worker Shortages because this takes the business perspective of finding workers with the skills and work experience needed by businesses.

But how do you measure Skilled Worker Shortages in your region? There are two general methods to measure shortages: (1) a survey of businesses and (2) employment projections for occupations in key industries (demand) and projections of potential workers that will enter each occupation (supply). Some economic developers have used both methods. In any case, the findings from the research on worker shortages must be reviewed by key stakeholders – business executives, educators, workforce developers, and economic developers – before publishing the final report because the stakeholders will provide additional insights into the findings.

Surveying employers in your region is an excellent approach to identifying short-term (next 1-3 years) Skilled Worker Shortages. If your economic development organization makes regular growth and retention calls on businesses in your region, this is a good opportunity to discuss workforce needs and shortages. E-mail, mail, and telephone surveys can also be used.

The second method, projections of employment by occupation, generally provides more detailed information than is available from surveys. Employment projections are made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and state workforce agencies as well as by economic modeling and database companies.

Most of the communities and regions that are clients of Smart Solutions Group have an active growth and retention call program based on a tool such as Synchronist. We prefer to use the results from the calls on businesses with employment projections made by Economic Modeling Specialists Int’l (EMSI), which uses 15 years of historical data as well as projections from the BLS and states in making the projections by occupation. EMSI provides 10-year employment projections for each of the nearly 800 occupations in the BLS’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System. In addition to employment data, EMSI provides a variety of other workforce information that is useful in assessing the current and future workforce. We then present the information from these two sources to key stakeholders and this process results in a list of major current and future workforce shortages.

In Part 3 of this series, we will present the methodology that we use to measure Skilled Worker Shortages for SOC occupations. If you having any questions or comments about this article or have suggestions on future articles in Workforce Development, send them to Ed Andrews at

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