Employee shortage prompts Hamilton County initiative

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Hamilton County business leaders are teaming up to identify their top workforce problems and find solutions.

The Hamilton County Economic Development Corp. and Hamilton County Tourism Inc. on Tuesday announced the creation of the "Work! Hamilton County, IN" initiative, along with the results of a recent workforce development survey commissioned by the two organizations.

According to the research, 59 percent of Hamilton County businesses plan to expand their workforce by 2019.

“That’s the good news,” said Tim Monger, president and CEO of the Hamilton County Economic Development Corp.

But 52 percent of employers are already struggling to fill existing vacancies, and it’s not just at one level—51 percent of companies face a shortage of mid-level candidates and 56 percent say there’s a lack of entry-level applicants.

More than 135 employers responded to the survey that was sent out to members of all of the chambers of commerce and Hamilton County Tourism Inc. during a four-week period. The employers represent nearly 16,000 jobs in Hamilton County.

Monger said the businesses that responded cover a wide range of industries, sizes and geographic locations, but they’re still hoping to grow the sample size and develop a better understanding of the workforce challenges.

“I think we’re all interested in addressing this,” Monger said. “We see this as sort of the beginning. … It’s sort of, the more the merrier.”

Hamilton County regularly has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state—3.9 percent as of March—which some business experts have blamed for the hiring issues, along with a lack of public transportation.

Businesses in the retail and hospitality industries especially have struggled for months to fill positions, a situation that has pushed some employers to offer  incentives such as hiring bonuses to new workers.

Brad Coffing, research manager for the Hamilton County Economic Development Corp., said an overwhelming majority of employers reported that applicants had the education level needed for the job, but only 50 percent said the candidates had the desired experience.

“There seems to be a gap between education attainment and the experience they’re looking for,” Coffing said. “That’s something we’re interested in, too.”

All the chambers of commerce are participating in the" Work! Hamilton County, IN" task force, along with municipal economic development teams, Hamilton County Leadership Academy, Legacy Fund of Hamilton County, Duke Energy Corp. and the Center for the Performing Arts.

Monger said the task force will start to identify reasons employers are facing these problems and eventually suggest solutions, which are expected to be implemented in 2017.

The task force was set to be announced at the countywide chamber of commerce luncheon Tuesday, where Edward Cone, deputy director of thought leadership at Oxford Economics, was scheduled to speak about the direction of the global workforce.

The global economics firm recently completed the Workforce 2020 study, which included two surveys—one given to more than 2,700 executives and another given to 2,700 employees throughout 27 countries.

According to that research, 21 percent of respondents said there was a lack of available employees, and 48 percent reported difficulty recruiting candidates with entry-level skills.

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