January 1, 2012

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On the Job

Leaders Looking for Ways to Get the Beehive Buzzing Again

Gaylen Webb

January 1, 2012

On the other hand, Utah and Cache Counties are experiencing healthy job growth. Knold says the Provo area is experiencing employment gains around 3.5 percent—better than the state’s historical average—and “almost without the help of the residential construction sector.”

100,000 Unemployed

While the Utah Department of Workforce Services lists about 20,000 jobs on its website, approximately 100,000 Utahns are presently considered unemployed. Another 100,000 have quit looking altogether and do not get counted in the state’s labor force participation rate (the percentage of those 16 and older who are working or looking for work). With this additional group, the Bureau of Labor Statistics would put unemployment up around 14.3 percent in Utah and 16.2 percent nationally. Knold says the latter group essentially got tired of looking. Some went back to college.

“College enrollments have shot way up because of the recession. The upside is that a larger portion of the labor force will be more educated down the road. Rather than sit idle, many from this group have gone back to school and are making the most of their time,” he says.

Another block of workers fit within the label of the “under-employed,” a segment of the population that is either working part time when they would rather be working full time, or working in jobs beneath their capabilities.

“What can’t be measured are those people working way below their capabilities. We have to make the assumption in this economic environment that a lot of people are doing that,” he says, adding that career movement is kind of like trying to climb up a ladder. When the economy is good, a large portion of the labor pool climbs up the ladder, leaving a vacuum at the bottom. That vacuum is what encourages immigration and illegal immigration.

On the other hand, “in a recession you get a lot of people falling down the ladder. What we have right now is an incredible pent-up desire within the workforce to move upwards or sideways into something different. We have seen a lot of non-movement or backward movement in the past five years…but we won’t see [upward] movement until we see a stronger economy, or until workers are confident they can get something else rather than sitting silent because there is nowhere else to go,” he explains.

Agenda for Growth

Mark Lehman, president of the Utah chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, describes the Utah job market as stabilizing and in a holding pattern, but says competition for jobs is fierce with a flood of applicants vying for the limited number of open positions. With the glut of applicants, employers are relying more and more on referrals, especially when filling skilled and managerial positions. Nonetheless, he believes that Utah is unique in how it is dealing with the recovery.

“The exciting thing about Utah is the enthusiasm and determination about job development, from Governor Herbert to the Salt Lake Chamber and on down. The focus on job development is significant. The people that I deal with feel a sense of community, a sense of being on the same team and moving in the same direction,” Lehman explains. “People talk about the unemployment numbers, but the numbers don’t matter. What matters is we are on the same page and we are creating jobs in a way that is efficient and sustainable.”

Lehman points specifically to two job growth agendas: Herbert’s “100,000 jobs in 1,000 days” initiative, and the Salt Lake Chamber’s “Utah Jobs Agenda.” The governor’s initiative seeks to help the private sector create 100,000 jobs in a little less than three years. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Jobs Agenda seeks to create 150,000 jobs over five years through a variety of measures that include investments in transportation, the state’s energy economy and corporate recruitment.

Are the two initiatives doable? They both are, says Knold.

“If you take the environment we are in now and freeze it, and then repeat it for the next three years, we would be at 100,000 jobs,” he says. “The same for the Salt Lake Chamber’s initiative: if we repeat it for the next five years we will be at 150,000 jobs.” The governor’s initiative requires job growth of about 2.8 percent for three years, while the Chamber’s jobs agenda requires about 2.4 percent job growth for five years.

“Both of those job numbers are quite achievable, but not guaranteed,” Knold adds. “For the past year we are estimating employment growth of 2.6 percent, which is 31,000 jobs.” Extrapolate that growth rate out for three or five years and the state will have achieved the desired 100,000 or 150,000 jobs.

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