Oregon’s got jobs, but could use workers to fill critical positions, according to new report

By Tiffany Camhi (OPB)
May 16, 2024 1:54 a.m. Updated: May 16, 2024 2:05 a.m.

Oregonians looking to work in some of the state’s key industries are likely to find jobs waiting for them, according to a state report.

Oregon's labor shortage is reflected at Gramma's Corner Kitchen in Milwaukie, Ore., on May 9, 2021. The 2024 Oregon Talent Assessment reported that Oregon’s workforce shortage is severe, with about 66 people available to work for every 100 jobs posted in the state.

Oregon's labor shortage is reflected at Gramma's Corner Kitchen in Milwaukie, Ore., on May 9, 2021. The 2024 Oregon Talent Assessment reported that Oregon’s workforce shortage is severe, with about 66 people available to work for every 100 jobs posted in the state.

John Notarianni / OPB

Oregon has lots of jobs. In some ways, too many.

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Jobs are especially abundant in Oregon’s healthcare, manufacturing and childcare industries. But the workforce to fill these jobs is lagging and employers — businesses, community organizations, higher education institutions and state agencies — will have to work together to shore up the state’s worker shortage.

Those are some of the key findings from the Oregon Talent Assessment, a biannual report released this week by the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Workforce and Talent Development Board.

The report looked at four key industries that have the potential to lift the economic status of Oregonians: healthcare, information technology, construction and wood products manufacturing. It also singled out two jobs that are crucial to a well-oiled economy in Oregon: childcare workers and truck drivers.

Post-pandemic, Oregon’s economy is faring well, according to figures cited in the assessment. The state’s gross domestic product has increased by more than 30% over the last five years and employment grew by 7% from 2020 to 2023. That job growth is expected to increase by 10% over the next ten years.

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“Oregon is well positioned when it comes to the labor market,” said Christiana McFarland with the nonprofit research firm SRI, which conducted the assessment. “Most people who want a job, have a job here in the State of Oregon.”

But this good news is tempered with the fact that the state’s current workforce is expected to shrink in coming years. One in four workers are set to retire over the next decade and a 30-year trend in population growth for Oregon ended in 2022.

The continued growth of the state’s economy is dependent on finding, training and retaining skilled workers. Providing periodic training opportunities for workers in information technology and semiconductor spaces is crucial, where technological advancements often outpace STEM programs and certifications. Retraining was also an identified need for Oregon’s trucking industry. Employers surveyed in this industry said balancing time away from a worker’s regular duties with training on new technologies, like lane assist or other semi-automatic safety features, was a challenge.

The assessment reported that Oregon’s workforce shortage is severe, with about 66 people available to work for every 100 jobs posted in the state. Labor shortages in certain industries and jobs are more significant than others. The state needs nearly 27,000 more healthcare workers to meet demand. Registered nurse was the most common position found on Oregon job boards. The report also found that part of the problem is a slow pipeline for healthcare workers due to Oregon’s own regulatory system, with a licensure process that is unusually burdensome for people seeking credentials.

Oregon needs nearly 3,000 more people to fill the demand for childcare workers, a job that is often underpaid. Workers in this job overwhelmingly identify as female and earn just over half of the average salary, $65,000, in Oregon. The lack of available childcare slots has a downstream effect on potential workers, by preventing parents of young children from entering the workforce.

The report offered several recommendations to ensure long-term success for Oregon’s economy and workforce including closer alignment between two big realms: the state’s workforce system, which includes private business leaders, state agencies and community organizations, and the state’s education system, meaning both K-12 and higher education.

The report also called for increased access to workforce opportunities for all Oregonians, something the state has already started doing through Future Ready Oregon, a $200 million investment from the state legislature in 2022. Creating an equitable workforce is the main goal behind the program, which seeks to increase living-wage job opportunities for women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and youth among other marginalized groups in the state.

“There are a number of programs and investments that the state is making to really drive workforce development, talent development into the future,” said McFarland. “The key to success for those programs is going to be the ability to adapt to the changing economy.”

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