Survey results show positive local outlook

The results from the Brownfield Industrial Development Corporation’s (BIDC) Local Employer Survey are in and projections for Brownfield business expansion and job growth look good. On the downside, employers say there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill those jobs. The survey was sponsored by BIDC and Workforce Solutions South Plains did the analysis of the survey questions.

“Surveys like this help communities address the rising problem of not having a trained workforce.” said Grant Vaughn, Employer Engagement Specialist with Workforce Solutions. “It gives them a road map of what they could be doing to improve their workforce situation.”

The survey sample was small at 37 businesses but did represent almost 50 percent of the 80 surveys sent out. Respondents agreed the economic outlook in Brownfield was positive.

They shared a need in the future to hire additional staff, with 37 percent having vacant positions currently at their businesses. 72 percent of employers interviewed indicated that applicants only need a GED or high school education, very few needed any kind of higher degree.

Forty percent (40%) of the local businesses surveyed said they had future plans for expansion.
Also, about 40 percent indicated that the Brownfield economy in general is better off than in the previous year; while the same percentage said the health of their business were better off than in the previous year.

General office work, automotive repair, skilled trade, general maintenance, truck driving and welding are the job sectors in brownfield that project the most job growth. But healthcare, nursing and medical assistance combined is very strong.

With the twenty-nine employers who responded they had a total of 478 employees, but when ask how many they expect to have by next year, they predicted an increase of 15 people (493) or a 3 percent increase. When asked had they hired any new employees in the last twelve (12) months, 84 percent of them said yes.

Experience is needed in most fields like office work or general maintenance. Businesses are offering benefits: health insurance and retirement benefits. Most employers did not see transportation or housing as an obstacle to applicant placement.

Several respondents offered the same issues regarding new hires: The business hired a “less qualified” applicant than they needed. Hiring could occur in 2-4 weeks if the applicants had experience, however most employers stated that they would offer on the job training or in-house training for new hires. Most employers did state they would allow a few hours per week for education or training for new hires.

BIDCorp executive director David Partlow said although all of the above seems like good news, Brownfield does have a looming problem we must address.

“Not only do we have a very high shortage of skilled workers, those who are employable are increasingly ill-prepared for today’s workforce,” he added.

A national report released in Oct. of 2017 by a coalition of business research and advocacy groups, said that 70 percent of recently hired high school students proved to be deficient in academic skills, such as grammar, spelling, written communications, and critical thinking.

“When asked which barriers affect expanding employment levels in their business, 56 percent of respondents answered that shortage of workers with knowledge, skills and professional readiness.

According to the Workforce Solutions South Plains, only a small pool of applicants is open to Brownfield due to sustained low unemployment numbers.

This in addition to local population (9,775) makes hiring qualified applicants more difficult. Employers who answered the survey stated they often had to hire a less qualified applicant or did not hire at all. Further stating that the applicants lack soft skills, qualifications, poor attitude, or poor presentation making them potentially un-hirable.

“Experts say that you don’t have a workforce when unemployment drops below 5%”, said Partlow. “Ours is 4.2% (Oct), compared to Texas 4.8 % and U.S. 4.7%. That, with exceptions, are the unemployable – mental problems, drugs problems, criminal records, no skill at all, no education, etc. 2% are in transit; workers that are moving, changing jobs, etc. That leaves us only 2.2% that could be subject to workforce interventions e.g. as job training, or additional academic education.

It is hard to recruit high quality jobs when your demographics are like this:

  • Brownfield per-capita income is $24,528, as compared to $55,322 across the U.S.
  • 31% of our population makes less than $25,000 a year;
  • 60.5% of our population has a GED or less (30% have no diploma; 23.4% have a high school diploma, and 7.1% have GED’s).; as compared to 87 % of U.S. have high school or higher.

Partlow speculates that because of these demographics and data, we get the kind of businesses that fit most of our unemployed working population (known as our current workforce) today: retail and fast food jobs; meaning companies that don’t need high skilled employees.

“But let’s not just put the blame on employees, employers carry some blame.” Partlow said. “To attract better paying jobs we have to have the demographics needed to attract bigger and better companies, we need these things to happen:

  1. We need employers to pay their employees more, salaries must go up about $1,200+ a year.
  2. We need about 1,000 more people.
  3. Once we reach numbers like these, we can expect to attract the  ind of manufacturing and retail stores we want.

But despite these hurdles we have recently been able to:

o Recruit Halliburton. They were only going to create 120 jobs and $150 million investment; they now have over $300+ million investment and 445 employees and growing.
o Sanders Ag., a $5 million investment in Brownfield, created 15 jobs,
o Early Trucking, a $4.5 million investment with 28 jobs.
o Guar Resources, a $3.2 million investment creating 42 jobs and $2.1 payroll.

The main issue that comes out of the survey shows that we have a lack of training and education. Local education and training needs to be a priority to keep local talent and attract new families.

Most employers stated they will offer on the job training or classroom instruction inside their offices. Local students need an opportunity to be taught the skills that Brownfield area merchants need.

This data makes a case for employer-based education and for a strong partnership with a training institution that could have a local presence, according to Martin Aguirre, CEO of Workforce Solutions South Plains.

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