Monday, October 1, 2012

Business owners: Kansas lacks qualified workers

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The state of the Kansas economy is mixed, with some sectors improving while others aren’t, business leaders and state officials are saying.

“The economy is still relatively flat,” said Stan Ahlerich, executive director of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.

At the council’s meeting last week, Gov. Sam Brownback focused on some positives, saying the state “had good job creation last year” and “a nice run” of increasing economic indicators.

But the Kansas Index of Leading Indicators has been leveling since May and decreased slightly last month.

“We hope this is a temporary pause going forward and the upward trend continues,” said Inayat Noormohmad, an analyst with the Kansas Department of Labor.

And officials said the 16,800 private-sector jobs added between August 2011 and this August — a 1.5 percent gain — don’t cover the loss of 70,000 jobs during the recession.

“We still have a long climb back out,” Noormohmad said.

Not enough qualified workers

One of the most startling statistics about the Kansas economy is that building permits have decreased 24.8 percent between 2011 and 2012 while they have increased in the six-state region by 21 percent and nationally by 40.6 percent.

Ivan Crossland, chief executive officer of Crossland Construction, and a member of Brownback’s Council of Economic Advisors, said he thought the industry was in a wait-and-see mode until after the Nov. 6 general election.

He said there is a serious problem in finding qualified workers, such as mechanics and carpenters.

Representative of other sectors also complained about the lack of qualified workers, saying too many people can’t pass drug tests and background checks. Patti Bossert, also a member of the Economic Council and president of Key Staffing in Topeka, said she serves on a board within the Kansas Department of Labor that reviews appeals in unemployment compensation disputes.

Most of the people who are filing appeals “are not employable,” she said. She said they have been terminated for misconduct, including stealing and failing drug tests. Later, in an interview, she said her comments were meant to be general in nature.

Job vacancies rising

A recent survey by the Kansas Department of Labor said the state had 36,000 job vacancies in August, which represented a 17.3 percent increase since 2011. Of those vacancies, 71.4 percent required no education or just a high school diploma.

Several others on the council said they felt the economy was improving slowly or at least stabilizing.

David Coleal, a senior vice president with Spirit AeroSystems, said commercial aircraft manufacturing was in good shape, while general aviation aircraft remained far behind the performance of 2008.

“The fundamentals of the industry are solid,” he said.

Mollie Hale Carter, president of Sunflower Bank in Salina, said the banking sector was stable but smaller banks are suffering with the “regulatory environment.”

And officials said they were still awaiting data on the effects of the drought.