The Right Stuff

Report: Metro’s Supply Of Workers May Be Slightly Out Of Step With Demand

Posted: February 7, 2013

Zachary Zimmerman, 20, (left) of Shenandoah and Khashayar Dashtpour, 23, of Harrisonburg set up a hydraulic training system at Mechatronics Engineering’s math class at Blue Ridge Community College. A new report finds the Harrisonburg metro area short on some key job skills. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Instructor Matt Goss conducts a Mechatronics Engineering math class at Blue Ridge Community College on Tuesday. BRCC, Shenandoah Valley Partnership and the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Investment Board commissioned Chmura Economics to study metro Harrisonburg’s workforce and how it matches up with skills needed in the Valley.
HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg metro area has a deficit of workers with a bachelor’s degree or above, according to a Richmond research firm.

But Chmura Economics and Analytics’ model likely indicates a shortage in certain fields as opposed to a dearth in higher education achievement in general, according to some local economic development and education officials who looked at the analysis.

And Dan Meges, an economist and business development manager for Chmura, said the figures for Harrisonburg are in a normal range for rural areas.

The firm’s analysis does not necessarily reflect a workforce deficiency, he said.

“I wouldn’t overdraw conclusions,” said Meges, who works out of Chmura’s Cleveland office. “What it might suggest is this is an area where we might be able to make some additional investments in higher education to better our industries.”

Coincidentally, local organizations are beginning a process to get a more complete picture of what areas should be focused on in higher education and job training to meet the needs of area businesses.

Blue Ridge Community College, Shenandoah Valley Partnership and the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Investment Board commissioned Chmura to conduct a study specifically focused on the Valley’s workforce needs, BRCC President John Downey said.

The study should be finished sometime this spring, at which point it will move into an implementation phase.

“I think it’ll show …  that manufacturers and other employers in this region have specific jobs young people have never heard of, and so they don’t know whether they’d like it,” Downey said. “That’s a major focus area of mine, is you can’t do what you don’t know.”

In its underemployment analysis, Chmura ranks the Harrisonburg metropolitan statistical area, which includes the city and Rockingham County, as 193rd out of 366 MSAs in the United States. Underemployment in this case refers to people whose jobs are beneath their education level, such as a chemist with a doctorate working at a coffeehouse.

The recently updated model analyzes industries to determine the demand for certain types of jobs and what level of education researchers would expect employees to have compared to what the supply of workers has.

Cities at the top of the underemployment list have a surplus in the high end of supply. The Barnstable-Yarmouth, Mass., metropolitan statistical area tops the list, and at the bottom is Cape Girardeau-Jackson MSA in Missouri and Illinois.

Winchester is ranked 189, while Blacksburg was 242. Charlottesville was 64, and Lynchburg, 252.

Chmura’s analysis breaks down workers into three categories based on education: low, those with a high school diploma or less; medium, an associate degree or some college; and high, a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In the low-skill category, the Harrisonburg metro area shows a 2.1 percent surplus of workers, while the medium range shows a 1.9 percent surplus. The city has 4 percent deficit in the high category.

Frank Tamberrino, president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, was surprised by Chmura’s findings, saying most local businesses don’t have trouble finding employees with degrees.

“If you’re looking for someone with a college degree, I’d be hard-pressed to say there’s a shortage,” Tamberrino said.

Robin Sullenberger, chief executive officer of Shenandoah Valley Partnership, said the issue isn’t a lack of education attainment in the metro area, but more that the types of degrees people are seeking may not be in line with what businesses seek.

“I don’t view this as an overly significant deficit in terms of numbers,” said Sullenberger, who sits on the board of the Virginia Community College System. “To me, this would be more of an alignment issue.”

Matching the needs of businesses with employers is what the latest Chmura study aims to accomplish.

Downey said the underemployment model shows the need for career development.

“I think it’s critical that people who go to college do some research that aligns their ambition and their program with what the industry needs,” he said.

People with bachelor’s degrees often go to Blue Ridge upon discovering their education didn’t train them in the fields they’re interested in, Downey said.

“We’re seeing that as a trend over the last five to 10 years,” he said. “The more we can get people understanding how education fits into the workforce and demand in the workforce, I think the better off this region will be.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com



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