Dallas Business Journal Logo - GTThe “gap” lies between the number of jobs and the number of applicants with the skills to fill them. The size of the gap depends on many factors, the biggest being the education required to obtain them. Some companies and educational institutions — most notably, the Dallas County Community College District — are bridging the gap and offering solutions that are netting tangible results (see “Solutions” story). But the answers aren’t easy and the fixes won’t be quick. In DFW, there is an especially strong demand for middle-skill workers — jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year university degree. Mid-skill positions in health care, technology, financial services, manufacturing, insurance and construction, in essentially that order, are the hardest to fill, DFW employers, educators and workforce specialists say. There are 42,000 middle-skill job openings per year in Dallas-Fort Worth and a critical shortage of workers to fill them, concludes an analysis by JPMorgan Chase. Roughly 1 million mid-skill jobs exist in the DFW region, representing about a third of all positions, said Sarah Steinberg, vice president of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase.

“That’s relatively high,” Steinberg said. “A lot of metro areas see 20 to 25 percent.” Filling the open mid-skill positions in DFW would increase the region’s annual gross domestic product by $2 billion and generate an additional $120 million in annual sales tax revenue, according to a Boston Consulting Group analysis. The DFW mid-skill positions — jobs such as programmers, electricians and pharmacy technicians — pay a median hourly wage of $24.47 an hour, or roughly $50,900 annually. That’s higher than the national median of $21.83 an hour or $45,400 annually for mid-skill occupations.

“What we’re seeing in Dallas is the skills gap is increasing because of the number of businesses that are moving here,” said Scott Snyder, who runs Year Up, a program that gives young adults education and experience they need to get midlevel jobs. “Right now, some of the companies we talk to can’t find talent.”

The skills gap exists up the career ladder, too, for jobs that do require a four-year degree or even more education.

There will be 4.8 million job openings in Texas over the next decade, according to business-leader group ReadyNation. About 62 percent of those will require some form of post secondary education. The state is producing only 55 percent now.

“That 7 percent gap doesn’t sound bad, but that’s 336,000 jobs,” said Kent Eastman, Texas state president of Capital One. “Those of us in business feel that. That is a critical issue.”

Capital One employs about 6,000 people in North Texas, making the company highly familiar with the local job market, Eastman said.

Eastman said he frequently is asked by the Dallas Regional Chamberto meet confidentially with executives of companies considering relocating to Texas. The talent gap typically is their top consideration.

“They’re interested (in relocating) because of the labor force we have,” Eastman said. “They’re also concerned because of the labor force we have.”

At the low end of the skills spectrum, supply-demand conditions are more favorable for employers.

A recent job fair primarily for seasonal and logistics positions in companies including Amazon, FedExUPS and Walmart attracted so many applicants that it caused traffic jams around the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas, where the event was held. The hotel parking garage filled and job hunters stood in lines for two hours or more for a shot at on-the-spot interviews for $10- to $20-an-hour jobs.

Amazon was hiring pickers and packers for holiday orders, UPS and FedEx were hiring drivers, and Walmart was hiring cashiers and assistant manager candidates.

More than 4,000 jobs were available, but the turnout far exceeded expectations, said Laurie Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions, a nonprofit that led the organization of the event.

Larrea viewed the throng of job seekers as a positive sign for employers.

“We’ve got workers who need jobs,” she said. “You talk about a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, and people think that’s full employment — you’re saturated. But look at this crowd.”

Despite the continuing demand for low- and high-skill positions, middle-skill jobs will represent the largest share of new job openings and replacements statewide, according to projections by the Texas Workforce Investment Council.

Through 2022, 65 percent of all future jobs in Texas will require some type of postsecondary education or training, those projections show. Of the jobs requiring postsecondary education, about half will be mid-skilled.

By obtaining postsecondary education and training for middle-skill jobs, workers can boost their average annual earnings by $24,000 to $37,000, the Workforce Investment Council’s report says.

Nationally, 19 of the 30 fastest-growing occupations between now and 2026 will require some postsecondary education, according to national projections released Oct. 24 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The same forecast also predicts an economy more dominated by the service sector. It forecasts continued erosion of manufacturing jobs nationwide, and more jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Occupations in health care will continue to grow rapidly. But jobs involving data entry and other tasks that are increasingly being automated will shrink, the BLS projections suggest.

Closing the skills gap is paramount to putting the national economy back on the fast track, and partnerships between education and industry are the way to close it, Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan said in a recent discussion of workforce issues at Brookhaven College in Farmers Branch.

Middle-class jobs are increasingly requiring higher skill levels as technological advances add complexity to tasks and jobs, Kaplan said.

Steinburg said the JPMorgan Chase study bears that out.

“Particularly in Dallas-Fort Worth, there still are a ton of good jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “But they look different than they did 30 or 40 years ago. They’re more in sectors like finance and health care and less in the places we would traditionally think, like on the assembly line or mining.”