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Study: Low Wages, Skills Gap Contributing To Utah's Labor Shortage

istock, PHIDUONG

Utah may be experiencing low unemployment and high job growth, but many businesses are still struggling to find qualified workers to fill jobs.

Scott Parson is president of Staker-Parson construction company, which specializes in building highways and site development.

They employ about 2,000 people, but they’re growing fast. And Parson says they’re having a tough time finding employees to fill open positions.

“The positions that, for us, are most challenging are commercial drivers, heavy equipment operators, mechanics, and then laborers to work on our construction projects,” he says.  

Right now, their job openings are taking anywhere from four to eight weeks to fill and that’s not including training.

“And once we making a hiring decision, it will take several weeks, typically, before that person can be put to work,” he says.

Parson’s problem is one that many Utah industries are facing right now. With a 3.1 percent unemployment rate, there just aren’t as many people looking for work.

A new report from the policy research organization Utah Foundation examines some of the reasons behind this labor deficit.

Analyst Christopher Collard authored the report. He says there are four big factors contributing to this problem..

“So we traced Utah’s worker shortage back to an overall tight labor market, overall low wages across various industries, job desirability factors that affect specific industries, and then kind of a general skills gap where Utah workers may not be aligned with industry’s needs,” he says.

Also, Utah’s current labor force participation is about 69 percent, about 2 percent lower than a couple decades ago.

Collard says the state is coming up with some solutions through initiatives like the governor’s Talent Ready Utah, which partners businesses with high schools and community colleges to create a talent pipeline.

But he says conversations on wages and job desirability will also be needed to woo workers back into the workforce.

Utah Foundation Workforce Participation Research Report

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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