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Why Unemployment and Jobs in Oregon are Both on the Rise

Thursday, September 17, 2015

 

Numbers released by the Oregon Employment Department on Tuesday show that unemployment rose during the month of August despite an uptick in the amount of jobs available, bucking national trends that show unemployment falling while jobs rise. Economic experts in the area told GoLocal that is because the hiring pool is not meeting the needs of employers.

According to the report, job gains over the past 12 months were widespread as nearly all major industries grew by roughly three percent.  Oregon's fastest growing industries, including leisure and hospitality, retail trade and transportation, warehousing and utilities each grew jobs by roughly five percent.

None of the major industries cut jobs substantially during the period, but financial activities and mining and logging each were essentially flat.

Despite this, the unemployment rate in Oregon rose from 5.9 percent to 6.1 percent over the course of August, finishing roughly one full percentage point below the national average.

That figure has been on the rise since April of this year, when unemployment hit a post-recession low of 5.2 percent.

“Oregon having a higher than average unemployment, even with the rise in jobs, is completely unsurprising,” John Taponga, President of ECONorthwest, told GoLocal. “There is a disconnect between employers, educators, and students about what skills are needed in the job market and what employers are looking for.”

Skills Gap

Wendy Kent, founder of Kent Employment Solutions, a job recruiting firm based in Portland, told GoLocal that a major reason for the misalignment between growing jobs and rising unemployment is the new found specificity in the job market.

Kent said it is no longer enough to be intelligent, competent and hardworking in order to secure a job. Candidates must now come to job interviews equipped with a specific set of skills that answers the employers' needs.

“The world of work is filled with specialists now,” Kent said. “In the past people were generalists, jack-of-all-trades kinds of people. Today, there is a strict set of criteria and requirements that employers are looking to fill with each job.”

Taponga agreed, saying there was a “mismatch” between those looking for jobs and employers seeking to fill openings. He said that most employers post job openings with specific qualifications and that most people seeking to find a job don't stack up to those requirements.

Tom Potiowsky, Director of the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University, said that while job growth in Portland may be better than unemployment numbers make it seem, there are definite gaps between employers and those searching for a job.

“The problem is that the people who are unemployed don't have the resources to be retrained,” he said. “They cannot afford to just go get new training and there are no government programs in this area for them to get that training.”

Education Problems

Taponga, with ECONorthwest, said that the best way to fix the economic problems in the state is to revamp the state's failing education system

"First and foremost, we need to improve the reputation of our education system," Taponga said, "from kindergarten to high school, all the way to higher education."

He advocated for better communication between companies and potential employers about what skills are needed in the workforce.

"People will talk about how they can't find jobs, while companies will tell you they have shortages," Taponga said. "Companies need to talk to schools, who need to talk to students about what skills they need to have."

Potiowsky, with Portland State, said it is important to look at what job skills will be desired by employment in the future.

“Right now, we can't just train people to fill a need that's there in the next two weeks,” he said. “We need to have a forward looking aspect towards this. That's why programs like STEM programs and others in schools are so important.”

 

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