It seems like a good problem to have if you are a job-seeker: Employers in Western New York are offering signing bonuses and other perks to attract talent, which is in short supply. Unemployment here fell to a modern-era low of 3.8 percent in September.
The tight labor market is challenging for the region’s economy, however. Western New York businesses cannot grow if they have job openings that go unfilled. That’s a challenge that demands action on all fronts.
While manufacturing has rebounded in Western New York, there aren’t enough trained workers today to fill jobs requiring advanced skills.
Adding more pressure is that baby boomers are retiring — the so-called Gray Tsunami.
Meeting the demand for skilled workers requires a multi-pronged approach, starting with: more investment in training programs; enticing young people to pursue careers in skilled trades, and companies re-evaluating their wage scales if they want to attract talent to Western New York.
On the training front, our region is making headway. The Northland Workforce Training Center opened this summer on the East Side. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership supports a coalition called Employ Buffalo Niagara, designed to match employers with workforce agencies.
The United Way of Buffalo and Erie County helps fund apprenticeship programs here, and Erie Community College and other schools offer vocational training. At the same time, manufacturers and other employers would benefit from devoting more resources to apprenticeship programs to train their next generation of workers.
Getting workers to buy in can be a challenge. Sometimes young people are pushed toward college even when it may not be the best fit. Others may be put off by the post-high school training that is often needed. Changing that mindset is the job of educators, who can help to train new workers for careers that are satisfying and pay well.
Wages are another factor. To lure more people into the job market and to become competitive with other regions, workers need to have higher-paying opportunities.
Julie Anna Golebiewski, an economics professor at Canisius College, told The News that over the past year, wages in the Buffalo metropolitan area have risen by 3.5 percent, “a pretty significant increase,” and the first in several years. During this century, she said, real wages in the manufacturing sector have declined.
A bigger paycheck is the incentive that many need to consider a job in manufacturing or skilled trade, which would help Western New York keep its economic resurgence on track.