By Alisa Boswell
The U.S. economy will have 55 million job openings through 2020 and not enough workers to fill them, according to a 2013 study by Georgetown University based out of Washington, D.C.
According to the study, over the course of the next several years, the U.S. will see 24 million new jobs created and 31 million job openings due to “baby boomer” retirements.
Most of these job openings will be happening in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries and health care, with many of the jobs requiring some type of post-secondary education or training.
Xcel Energy Spokesman Wes Reeves said his company anticipates 400 employees from its Southwestern Public Service region in New Mexico and Texas to be eligible for retirement within five years. That’s about 24 percent of their workforce.
“It is becoming challenging because we have more competition for applicants,” Reeves said. “At one time, we were the only company building transmission lines in this area.”
That is no longer the case, Reeves said. The problems with hiring a newer, younger workforce don’t stop there.
According to Reeves and Paul Sanchez, human resources manager for PNM Resources, younger generations are not showing the level of skills and higher training needed for positions in their industry.
“Part of the risk (with bringing in a new workforce) is that the knowledge these current individuals have gained from years of doing the job,” Sanchez said. “That’s the value being left at the door when people retire. It’s trying to capture that process and procedure that will allow or enable organizations to truly close those (job opening) gaps.”
Sanchez said one problem is that the generation now coming out of high school does not have the reading or math skills to fill many of the positions that will open in utilities. The other part of the issue is that many young people do not know that good career opportunities exist in fields like the utility industry.
Sanchez said many utility industry positions do not require college degrees but newer generations of students graduating high school are not showing a high enough level of reading and math comprehension to fill the jobs.
“It’s hard to say (why),” Sanchez said.
“I don’t think there’s a focus any longer for those core curriculums, whether it’s reading, math or science,” he said. “There are so many other extra curricular opportunities that I don’t believe there’s a true emphasis on those core curriculums and making sure that students have those skills.”
To head off this future shortage, Xcel, PNM and local health care entities are beginning to target youths as young as junior high as potential future employees.
Reeves and Sanchez said their companies regularly visit educational institutes from junior high school to college to talk about career opportunities with their companies and what studies students should strengthen while in school to meet the job criteria.
Reeves said his company has gone as far as to hire a recruiter devoted to the task of bringing in new employees.
“Really we don’t have a choice. We have to do it,” Reeves said concerning combating the issue so far in advance. “In an industry like this, we can’t allow ourselves to be short-handed, especially in a time of growth. We know we have a lot to do but we feel we have the right processes in place.”
The health care industry has been hit even harder, according to Roosevelt General Hospital Chief Executive Officer Larry Leaming.
Leaming said his industry is not only facing many retirements but also a lot of growth due to continuously increasing demand for health care.
Leaming said 50 percent of the U.S. nursing workforce is close to retirement and 70 percent of hospital CEOs are expected to retire within 10 years.
“I think that everybody is feeling the same thing, that it is a combination of a lot of people who would like to retire and also growing demand,” Leaming said. “As the average age of the population increases, you will see a growing demand for health care services. That’s probably the biggest factor I see. Statistically, rural communities have a larger population of seniors than urban.”
Leaming said another factor making recruitment tough for rural hospitals is younger generations are more interested in settling in urban areas.
Leaming and RGH spokesperson Amber Hamilton said the hospital has four nursing positions open.
Hamilton said the hospital also reaches out to college youth by allowing them to shadow their staff to determine if the health care field is where they want to work. They also allow students already pursuing health care education to intern at the hospital.
“We utilize as many students as we can because the moment you can get them placed and really engaged in the field, the better,” Hamilton said.