State of the St. Louis Workforce | KMOX Interview
Rod Nunn with John Hancock & Michael Kelley on KMOX Radio
HOST: Well John, we are going to move into the State of the Workforce here in St. Louis.
HOST: We are indeed. We are joined by Rod Nunn, he is the Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Community Development for St. Louis Community College. We are going to talk about a study, the State of the Workforce in the St. Louis area. Rod, welcome to KMOX.
ROD NUNN: Thank you, thanks for having me John.
HOST: So you have found, in this study...what?
ROD NUNN: Well, what we found in our study is that we were actually able to confirm what many of us thought was through anecdotal information; there is a significant economic realignment underway in the economic downturn. A lot of that evidence comes from the actual supply side of the workforce, when we look at what's going on with the skill requirements and how dislocated workers are meeting that, or not meeting that.
HOST: So, what is the status? Do we have a supply job problem or do we have a lack of trained and qualified workers?
ROD NUNN: Well, there is no question that we have a problem on both sides of the equation. Right now, there are about 5.4 unemployed people for every job opening. But despite all of the anecdotes about the supply of talent out there; employers also say that there is some difficulty matching skill requirements with their needs, or skill demand with their needs.
HOST: So you are finding that you have employers that have jobs where the workforce pool is just not meeting the call?
ROD NUNN: Right. When we asked employers about their success and what their perceptions are about the qualifications of workers 70.4%, 70.4% of them have some difficulty in filling vacancies. We asked them, okay, what are some of those issues? They said lack of knowledge about general business conditions and some of the things that we heard about before the recession like soft skills, critical thinking and problem solving. So we certainly have some issues with alignment.
HOST: So, are there programs out there that are working and retraining workers to qualify them to meet the employer's needs?
ROD NUNN: Absolutely. At St. Louis Community College, where I serve as Vice Chancellor for Workforce and Community Development, we've got a number of programs across the region. But one of the things that we do to, as I like to say "thread the needle" between supply and demand is, we pair our instructor designers up with subject matter experts in industry so that we design tailor made programs. Actually, over the last year since we were made aware of these issues, we actually established over 10 accelerated job training programs. Even in this economy, over 62% of the people who've enrolled in our programs found employment in health care, in some of the clean energy economy, advanced manufacturing and places like that, industries like that.
HOST: Obviously we have stalwarts who have been in St. Louis for a long time, like Boeing, Anheuser Busch, Enterprise Leasing, Ameren UE. Are there entrepreneurs out there in St. Louis? Are we keeping up with the national trend of providing those new small business jobs?
ROD NUNN: I would say no. In Missouri specifically, we tend to compete on business climate and we invest a lot into economic competition with other states and certainly at the regional level as well. We don't invest enough on growing our own. One of the questions we ask some of the dislocated workers, who by the way are not just a bunch of frontline folks coming out of legacy manufacturing, we asked them about entrepreneurship and only 10% of the dislocated workers in our survey have started a business in the past 12 months. Another 13% indicated that they would plan to in the next 12 months if they had access to capital and financing. So, we've got some issues with respect to growing our own businesses in this region and I think that it is well documented and supported by our survey.
HOST: We are talking with Rod Nunn, he is the Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Community Development for St. Louis Community College, about his study on Workforce Development in the St. Louis area. What about access to capital, did your study look at the ability of businesses, manufacturing businesses to get resources to expand? Is that an issue here or is there just nothing to expand?
ROD NUNN: I can tell you anecdotally that it's an issue from talking to my network of business execs and economic developers. We did not actually research that particular question. We actually just scratched the surface because we were more curious with the dislocated workers out there and those who have been laid off for some time, how many of those were actually looking at entrepreneurship as a next career.
HOST: Who are the dislocated workers? I recall the hundreds of people who went to the casino at Lumiere Place when they had some job openings. There are hundreds of people going on these job interviews for just a few number of slots. What is the underemployed workforce made up of out there?
ROD NUNN: Well, I think we all know that this recession has been very indiscriminate. We have scientist and service workers who were laid off, accountants and auto workers who were laid off. But in terms of a demographic profile, now our survey actually worked with those one stop career centers both on the Illinois and Missouri side of the river as well as those dislocated workers who frequent the employment networks like the Go! Network and the Bounce Back Network. I can tell you that from our survey 55% are female, 64% are 50 years or older, 74% were the primary wage earner in their household and 63% of them had a bachelors degree or higher.
HOST: People who were unemployed out there, looking for a job right now, what sectors of the economy here in St. Louis provide them the best opportunity to find work?
ROD NUNN: Well, certainly what we are seeing and this survey confirms that the healthcare sector has the most growth. Now when I say healthcare, I don't necessarily mean clinical health because, not all dislocated workers are going to be nurses or radiological technicians and things like that. But that whole medical services industry cluster has an upstream and downstream effect that touches advanced manufacturing. In this region we manufacture bio medical devices. I mean that is one of our stronger clusters. But certainly looking at the impacts of healthcare, certainly with the federal requirement in the out years, I think it is 2012 that every American will have an electronic medical record. A huge growth area in health information technology, those types of things. Now, I don't think we can rest our economic recovery on the healthcare sector. That is just not possible, so I think we've got a lot of work to do with businesses, economic developers, educators, workforce development professionals working together to "thread the needle" over time as new jobs come online. I can tell you though, from looking at real time data that the IT sector is coming back really strong.
HOST: The new jobs home starts construction seems to be continuing to flounder. A lot of the people who are unemployed in your survey did you find were out of work building and construction trades folks?
ROD NUNN: Absolutely, very good question. A good chunk of the unemployed in the St. Louis region came out of the construction and manufacturing sectors.
HOST: No question about that. One of the things that St. Louis likes to trumpet nationally in terms of our emerging areas of work and development and growth is the whole area of life sciences. How many jobs are out there in this life sciences sector and is this a place where the St. Louis Region can really build a reputation for itself nationally?
ROD NUNN: Yeah, I certainly think so. We didn't actually survey the holistic group of life science firms. I mean this was a sampling of 1,500 employers. But, some of the data from a couple of years ago suggested that we had over 400 life sciences companies that employed I think 15,000 Missourians, or 15,000 folks. But, I think there is a lot more growth potential even with the layoffs, the high profile layoffs that we hear about at places like Pfizer. That certainly is an area of potential economic expansion for this region.
HOST: How much would the change over with Anheuser-Busch no longer being locally owned, there is a lot of jobs lost there. McDonald-Douglas for years has been Boeing, there's been some dislocation there but that facility is now the defense hub of the Boeing Company. Are you seeing those historic large manufacturers and companies in St. Louis, what effect are their changes having on the workforce here?
ROD NUNN: Yeah, that is a good question. Actually, you know if you go back and look over the long haul, as you did by sighting the McDonald-Douglas layoff from a long time ago, we certainly see the trend of the transformation from a manufacturing, industrial based economy to a service economy. That is certainly true and our survey results showed that. But also, there are some clusters in advanced manufacturing. Like, the aerospace cluster is pretty strong and the medical devise manufacturing clusters is pretty strong. So we have to continue to produce high value goods and services in this region because there is such a multiplier effect in those manufacturing jobs. For every manufacturing job in aerospace, it probably produces, and I've got the number here in the report, over 2 jobs in other sectors. There is a multiplier effect on those types of jobs, and I don't think our public policy makers or our economic developers are giving up on manufacturing.
HOST: People who are listening to this interview who want to research more and hear more about the study that you have put out, where can they access it?
ROD NUNN: They should go to http://stlworkforce.org
HOST: He is Rod Nunn, he is the Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Community Development for St. Louis Community College. He has the State of the Workforce here in St. Louis study out; you can access it at http://stlworkforce.org