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SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 6:00 AM
Companies that employ thousands of Wichitans may face a choice in the not-so-distant future: Keep jobs here or move them elsewhere.
Kansas is thirsty for skilled workers – the kind that work at Spirit AeroSystems or Textron Aviation – but it can’t find enough.
The shortage becomes more urgent each year as baby boomers grow older and retire. Over time, it threatens economic growth here.
How the state responds may affect your ability to get a job in the future.
Right now, you may be able to quickly find a good-paying job, if you’re able to work in fields like advanced manufacturing and other technical industries. But if companies don’t come to Kansas, or don’t expand because they can’t hire enough workers, that will leave fewer options for all workers eventually.
“Are we doing everything we can do in the state of Kansas to backfill those jobs so that Spirit, Textron and other major employers don’t have to make a choice between Wichita and other operations they have around the world?” said Gary Plummer, president and CEO of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The Eagle spoke to more than a dozen business, civic and state leaders who say that too often the workers that could fill these jobs just aren’t here or lack the necessary skills. They advocate an array of steps to combat the problem, from more technical education to better-targeted tax incentives.
Kansas had close to 45,000 job vacancies in 2016 – or more openings than the entire population of Hutchinson. That’s according to the latest available survey by the state Department of Labor, which looked at vacancies in the second quarter of the year.
For every 100 jobs, about 3.2 were vacant, according to the survey. A full half of the vacancies either lasted more than 30 days or were always open.
Kansas’ labor force has shrunk from more than 1,525,000 in 2009 to about 1,480,000 today. The labor force nationwide has grown during the same time.
The state’s unemployment rate stands at a low 3.9 percent.
The shortage of trained workers is likely to surface as an issue in the 2018 governor’s race – and in the next legislative session – as candidates and lawmakers debate how to spur economic growth.
“We need more people moving into Kansas,” Gov. Sam Brownback said recently.
“It’s not going to do any good to bring companies in if they can’t get staffed,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, a Republican who chairs the Senate commerce committee.