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Jobs Go Begging, Despite Economic Slowdown
By Bill Catlin , Minnesota Public Radio
February 24, 2001
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A new state survey finds that job openings outnumbered the unemployed in Minnesota by about 2-1 at the end of 2000. The study results confirm the shortage of workers provoking complaints from the health care industry, but less so in other sectors.

Brian Brom, who manages a Kinko's in St. Paul, Minnesota, says it can take up to a month to fill openings at the firm.
(MPR Photo:Bill Catlin)
THIS IS MINNESOTA'S FIRST statewide job vacancy survey. It's part of an ongoing effort to find out which industries and regions are hardest hit by tight labor markets. Officials will use the results to direct resources and training efforts where they're needed most.

The survey found an estimated 124,000 unfilled positions. Five out of every 100 jobs are unfilled. The extent of the shortage varies by region. About 71 percent of the unfilled jobs are in the Twin Cities, where openings outnumber people looking for work by 3-1. In greater Minnesota, the ratio is about 1-1.

The occupations with the most vacancies included retail sales, cashiers, and nursing aides orderlies and attendants, and registered nurses. Health care had some of the highest vacancy rates, and the problem was state wide.

Earl Wilson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, which conducted the survey, says the results confirmed complaints from the health care industry. Other industries, such as information technology, were a surprise.

"There certainly are shortages in the information technology area, but not to the extent that we expected. The collapsing of some of the dot-com companies are leaving some I.T. workers in surplus right now," according to Wilson.

The survey found that more than half, 59 percent, of all openings paid starting wages below $10 an hour.

"In a tight labor market, where you have plenty of jobs available, and not enough people to fill them, and people have skills, they're going to migrate to the higher jobs, so the tougher ones become the entry level jobs to fill," says Wilson.

Though about 60 percent of the openings pay less than $10 an hour, comparable numbers included paid vacation and health benefits. Sixty percent were also full-time jobs.

Among all job categories, retail salespeople had the most vacancies, nearly 10,000.

The difficulty hiring even hits companies like Kinko's. The giant self-serve copier and and technology-services firm is one of the few retailers on the Fortune magazine list of 100 best companies to work for, but it can still be a challenge for managers like Brian Brom in St. Paul to fill openings in a timely fashion. He says that heightens the pressure on existing employees.

"Sometimes it can take more than a month. That can be difficult, I mean the people that are in the stores, though, the co-workers that we do have, I consider heroes, because they're the ones that are going to work the extra hours. A lot of them don't mind the overtime. I don't mind paying them the overtime, I think they deserve it, if they have to cover a gap. But it can take longer than I would want," says Brom.

For the health care industry, the results may bolster an effort to convince state lawmakers to spend some $10 million on programs to address the health care worker shortage.

"Whenever people who can contribute to a solution, understand the problem, that helps," says Bruce Rueben, president of the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership. And that's bound to help. And so, from that standpoint, we're pleased to see that type of information out there, and that people are beginning to get a handle on the scope of the shortage and the extent of the shortage."

State officials plan to repeat the survey in the second quarter of this year.

Bill Catlin covers business for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at