There was an encouraging sign on Minnesota's economic front today. Job openings in the state rose significantly in the second quarter of this year, compared with the same period a year ago.
A survey of more than 10,000 employers indicates job vacancies jumped 15 percent. The 63,000 job openings reported is in line with numbers seen before the recession.
"It's an excellent sign," said Oriane Casale, an economist with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "It means employers are confident enough to be hiring right now and it will eventually impact the unemployment rate."
Minnesota's unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, well below the U.S. rate of 8.3 percent.
But Casale said there are still more people out of work than there are jobs for them. Statewide, there were 26 unemployed people for every 10 vacancies.
Among the sectors with the most openings were health care, retail, educational services, and manufacturing.
Nearly 60 percent of the openings were for full-time work. The median wage for those jobs was about $14 an hour.
Casale said education-related job opportunities increased 84 percent.
"I was a little surprised by that and I don't have a real good answer for that," she said. "It might just be a backlog of hiring, that schools had put hiring on hold for a while, not knowing really what their budgets were going to look like."
Casale said daycare centers also seem to be on a hiring drive. There were 379 daycare teacher vacancies in the quarter, up from 30 a year before. Casale suspects that could mean people with young children are feeling better about the job market.
"That's another kind of sign of people getting back to work," she said. "The first thing a couple will do when one of them loses a job is pull their kid out of daycare."
There were 85 more job opening for lawyers, nearly double the increase of a year ago, Casale said.
"I kind of think that's significant because legal has just not hired at all during this recession and the fact they're hiring at all now is kind of interesting," she said.
The survey also provides new information in an ongoing debate over whether there's a shortage of manufacturing workers with the right skills. Manufacturers say they can't find enough people qualified to set up and run sophisticated computer-controlled equipment.
"They're having trouble finding people who can do the high tolerance work," said Paul Huot, president of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association.
Skeptics have argued that pay is part of the problem. The apparent shortage has not driven wages up. In the second quarter, some jobs had a relatively high number of openings and good wages. For instance, there was more than a four-fold increase in openings for computer-controlled machine tool operators, with the median hourly wage for the job reaching almost $17. That is down from $19 a year ago.
DEED officials say that reflects a substantial drop in the number of jobs for which employers sought workers with post-secondary training.
"The issue is we have some very high technical work being down in the state of Minnesota," Huot said. "And it needs a person what has besides training, they need time on the job."
In coming months, DEED officials say they will be talking with employers to assess the extent of any skilled worker shortages and why they're occurring. Casale said the department can't determine if there is a skills gap by just looking at the job vacancy reports. Just because there's an increase in job openings in a sector, it does not prove there's a skills gap, she said.