‘Highly unusual labor market’ of 2022 analyzed in Oregon report

By Meerah Powell (OPB) and Rob Manning (OPB)
July 13, 2022 11:50 p.m.

The state report confirms hiring problems and other workforce difficulties facing employers.

Staffing shortages have been widely reported across Oregon and the country, as businesses struggle to recover from the decimating economic blow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s third “Oregon Talent Assessment” confirms that hiring has been tough — with 84% of employers reporting difficulty filling positions — and the report finds many other difficulties in what it calls a “highly unusual labor market” created by a public health emergency and the government’s response to the crisis.


One of the hopes for the assessment is that it will help inform the implementation of Future Ready Oregon — a $200 million workforce spending bill the Oregon Legislature passed earlier this year.

Related: Oregon lawmakers make $200 million jobs investment

“The findings of this year’s Talent Assessment will help inform employer and community collaboration in the implementation of the unprecedented Future Ready Oregon investment package,” Anne Mersereau, chair of the state’s Workforce Talent Development Board, said in a statement. “Employers and partners have shown they want to collaborate with college and workforce partners in a variety of ways to build equitable pathways to prosperity, and the more we know the better we can use this data to tailor our strategies to best serve all Oregonians during this time of change.”


The talent assessment was developed by economic consulting firm ECONorthwest for the Oregon Workforce and Talent Development Board and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

The assessment notes that the state’s unemployment rate is at a low point historically, but employment levels still aren’t back to where they were before the pandemic. The assessment also notes that by some indicators, Oregon’s labor market is faring better than the national average, with a slightly higher labor force participation rate.

The report notes the complex state of hiring and workforce development in 2022. For instance, the report’s analysis of different employment sectors found that shortages weren’t universal.

A sign says "help wanted"

A file photo of a help wanted sign is posted in a restaurant window. Staffing shortages have been widely reported by employers across Oregon and the country,

Matt Rourke / AP

The assessment confirmed the continuing and longstanding need for more healthcare workers in the state, like registered nurses and dental assistants. Service jobs, including food service, also account for a large number of projected job openings. On the other hand, it found that the number of people getting technology-related credentials appears to far outnumber anticipated job openings in relevant fields.

The pandemic has had a mixed impact on skill development for workers and managers, the report found. Employers reported that while there was less access to hands-on learning — especially for people like career and technical education students — the pandemic helped to increase the growth in digital, leadership and soft skills, such as their dependability, empathy and teamwork.

However, among employers that reported their staff weren’t “fully proficient,” most said the biggest reasons were a lack of occupational and soft skills. The 2022 assessment notes that the complaints from employers about a lack of soft skills and inadequate preparation for specific jobs isn’t a new problem. They showed up in previous assessments, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.