Oregon sees skilled jobs go unfilled

Despite high unemployment, 30,000 openings

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BEND, Ore. (AP) — Rick Williams is hiring drivers for his Prineville trucking company, but he could use 20 more and isn’t finding them.

“There’s just not enough people with the skills we need as an over-the-road truck driving business,” said Williams, CEO of Central Oregon Truck Co.

His company spends $10,000 to $15,000 on ads across the country trying to find people who have a commercial driver’s license and can pass physicals and driver safety courses to be insured. He has about 190 drivers and would like to have 210 to meet rising demand for moving goods.

Williams is not alone in his difficulty, according to a Bend Bulletin report on businesses struggling to fill jobs that require specialized skills and advanced education despite Oregon’s persistent high unemployment rate.

Employers in fields such as nursing, physical therapy, auto repair and engineering are hard-pressed to fill openings, a state Employment Department report says.

“It is a little bit surprising on the surface, when you think that there’s more than 100,000 unemployed (Oregonians) and 30,000 job vacancies,” said Gail Krumenauer, a state economist and one of the report’s authors. “But when you think about all the different factors in many of those openings, the minimum education and experience requirements for fields like nursing, those skills aren’t easily transferred” from another line of work.

Many of the jobs going unfilled require post-high school education.

While 83 percent of Oregon adults have high school diplomas, just 55 percent have an associate degree or higher, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

Bend-based RBD Instruments reports hiring one person this year, bringing its workforce to 13, and looking for more. The company makes devices that help researchers and manufacturers analyze layers of atoms on surfaces, part of developing aircraft and biomedical, solar and other devices.

“For companies like ours, we need people with electronics skills and physics or chemistry backgrounds,” President and CEO Randy Dellwo said. “Those are hard to find, not just in Central Oregon but nationally.”

Krumenauer’s report follows a June audit from the Oregon secretary of state that found more training is needed to fill the growing number of “middle-skill” jobs, like bookkeepers, accounting clerks and preschool teachers.