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State Of St. Louis Workforce Reveals Soft Skills Gap

August 12, 2011

State of STL Workforce event

Employers in the St. Louis region are challenged to find "work ready" applicants with the personal effectiveness competencies -- often described as "soft skills" -- needed to succeed in the modern work environment, according to the third "State of St. Louis Workforce Report."

More than 400 business, education and civic leaders attended the State of St. Louis Workforce: Moving Forward Seminar at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where the report was presented for the first time and 13 regional thought leaders discussed its findings. 

Dr. Dorsey  
STLCC Chancellor Myrtle Dorsey presenting at
the State of St. Louis Workforce Report event

To evaluate all factors affecting the region's workforce, St. Louis Community College conducted three research components: an Employer Survey, a Dislocated Worker Survey and Employer Case Study Interviews. Key findings from this year's report, which can be downloaded at www.stlworkforce.org, include:

LABOR POOL ALIGNMENT

Similar to 2010, this year's Employer Survey again found alignment issues between job seekers and hiring companies. According to a survey of 1,218 employers in the region, companies are receiving applications from job seekers with adequate technical training for positions but many applicants lack basic "soft skills" such as work ethic, discipline, critical thinking and interpersonal skills.
  
"Soft skills continue to be an important component to workplace success significantly enhancing the value job seekers bring to the market," said Rod Nunn, vice chancellor for workforce and community development. "All levels of education need to refocus on helping students achieve both technical skills and professional fundamentals."

Other key findings from this survey include: 

  • Two-thirds of respondents had at least some difficulty finding qualified talent for jobs. (Page 21)
  • More than half cited poor work ethic, communication/interpersonal skills, and critical thinking and problem solving as shortcomings among recent job applicants. (Page 22)
  • More than a third of employers said applicants lack a willingness and ability to learn, and don't have the ability to collaborate as part of a team. (Page 22)

EMPLOYER OUTLOOK

"Despite the current economic challenges faced by our region, we are optimistic about the future," Nunn said. "To realize that future, regional leaders must continue to build meaningful strategic alliances providing workforce education that ensures the right skills in the right places at the right time."

This survey revealed companies are prepared for growth, but are moving forward with caution.

  • Half of respondents reported company health/profitability as either good or excellent; another third reported it to be fair. (Page 16)
  • 54 percent believe revenue will increase during the next year. (Page 17)
  • 74 percent believe they will see increases in revenue in the next five years. (Page 17)
  • One third cited uncertainty about government regulations as the top challenge to growth. (Pages 17-18)

DISLOCATED WORKER PROFILE

The Dislocated Worker Survey of 408 job seekers found that a wider spectrum of occupations and industries are affected by this recession than in the past.

  • 42 percent of respondents are mid-career professionals between 45-54 years old. (Page 26)
  • 79 percent are the primary wage earners of their households. (Page 26)
  • 59 percent hold at least an associate degree; 29 percent hold a bachelor's degree; 41 percent have no or only some postsecondary education. (Page 26)
  • More than 50 percent of dislocated workers have been out of work for a year. (Page 28)

JOB SEEKERS WANT RETRAINING

"Strong attachment to place and the housing market are making it difficult for workers to move to available jobs," Nunn said. "This trend among mid-career professionals, who are settled in residency and family, indicates a need for more career assistance so they can receive new skills and succeed in new jobs."

  • 60 percent of workers said they are not willing to relocate for a job. (Page 26)
  • More than 90 percent cited needing to earn money or not being able to afford an education program as a barrier to pursing long-term training. (Page 30)
  • 74 percent indicated an interest in changing occupations to find a job. (Page 30)
    • Of those respondents, 73 percent are willing to enter short-term training or skills development to improve employability.
    • Only 50 percent are willing to complete a degree program.

About the State of the Workforce Report

The report can be downloaded at www.stlworkforce.org. Experts from the college's Center for Business, Industry and Labor also live blogged the event. You can also check out the video overview of the event.

The report was developed by St. Louis Community College in partnership with local workforce investment boards, Missouri career centers, Southwestern Illinois WorkNet Centers, Go! Network, BounceBack St. Louis, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, and the St. Louis Business Journal.
 
Joining Nunn on the panel were: George Brill, chief executive officer, Talisen Technologies Inc; Dale Chapman, president, Lewis and Clark Community College; Kurt Gerstner, lead of application modernization COE, Unisys; Julie Gibson, director, Missouri Division of Workforce Development; Gene Gorden, executive director, St. Louis County Division of Workforce Development; Sonal Hate, workforce research manager, Missouri Economic Research Information Center (MERIC); Cindy Hess, president, St. Louis Community College-Forest Park; Michael Holmes, executive director, St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE); Ed Jackson, president, East Central College; Steve Pulliam, vice president of operations and deputy general manager, GKN; Dave Stoecklin, executive director, Madison County; and Deb Walkenhorst, regional vice president of human resources, SSM Health Care-St. Louis.