The number of job vacancies in Minnesota continues to climb and is now at the highest total on record — which state officials said continues to be of concern because it could slow economic growth.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) calculates the job-vacancy numbers twice a year. During the second quarter, employers reported 146,513 vacancies, which was up 3% from the same period a year ago and 7% from the fourth quarter of last year.
Put another way, there were slightly more open positions than unemployed individuals in Minnesota, the agency said.
More than half of the openings were in the seven-county Twin Cities metro.
"Although the number of job vacancies continues to increase, the number of unemployed in Minnesota has also increased over the year," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a statement. "These figures continue to suggest strong hiring demand statewide, with more people now available to fill these open positions."
While most of the openings statewide are in the health care and social assistance field, nearly 8% are in manufacturing.
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan kicked off the state's Manufacturing Week on Monday by touring Minnesota manufacturing plants and highlighting job training programs.
There are scores of events over the next few weeks meant to expose young adults to lucrative career opportunities and help alleviate the critical worker-shortage problem plaguing factories across Minnesota.
Walz and other state officials attended events including the Grey to Green Conference at the University of Minnesota and the Lunar Startups UnDemo Day in St. Paul.
Other events include student or public open houses at Dotson Iron Castings in Mankato (Friday); Winegar Inc. in Waseca (Thursday); industrial spray maker Graco in Minneapolis (Friday); and 3-D printing firm Stratasys in Eden Prairie (Friday).
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will have its 2019 Manufacturers' Summit on Wednesday in Minneapolis, which will address the labor shortage and other issues such the effect of trade tariffs.
The Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association and the Manufacturers Alliance will co-host the 2019 Minnesota Manufacturing Conference at the Marriott Northwest in Brooklyn Park on Oct. 16 and 17.
More than 60% of employers surveyed by DEED expect employment levels to remain the same through the end of the year, while 27% are hiring more workers and 11% plan to decrease employment levels.
DEED officials noted last month that Minnesota's job-growth rate in August was 0.4%, which is slower than nation's 1.4% growth rate. Grove said during a phone interview on Sept. 20 that key challenges make it harder for some manufacturers and other employers to maintain staffing levels.
For one, baby boomers are retiring in record numbers at the same time job-seeking parents struggle to find affordable day care. In certain industries such as manufacturing, employers seek new hires who already have the high-tech skills needed to pick up where experienced retirees left off.
Filling those gaps can be hard and require training programs by factory heads who are increasingly creating partnerships with technical schools, state workforce centers, job candidates and even students, Grove said.
In other cases, employers need to be open minded and expand job candidate lists to include older workers, people with disabilities, people of color and other groups sometimes marginalized from good-paying jobs.
In other cases, employers are increasing wages, or benefits or being "innovative" and offering on-site day care, Grove said. "Some of the best solutions come where businesses and government are coming together" and trying different approaches.