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Triangle businesses looking to add thousands of jobs despite pandemic, survey finds

RALEIGH – COVID-19 is not dissuading many businesses in Wake County and across the Triangle from planning for future growth, 57% of the companies saying in a new survey that they collectively are looking to add as many as 32,000 jobs over the next three years.

They also are not as interested in hiring workers with four-year college degrees, meaning more opportunities for workers through job training and apprenticeship programs.

Plus, the Triangle’s fast-growing high-tech sector shows no signs of slowing down.

And overall they believe the Triangle region can provide an adequate supply of capable candidates to fill those coming new jobs.

However, the pandemic has certainly slowed the regional economy’s growth for at least the short term.

So says Wake County Economic Development in its new regional workforce survey.

“Business growth is expected to continue, though it will be slower than what we’ve seen over the last two years,” the report’s authors say, adding: “Overall, the Research Triangle region is positioned to continue growth and maintain a strong workforce.”

But there’s a big caveat:

“A critical question for the region’s economic recovery will be understanding how we can elevate industries experiencing slower growth, connect the local workforce with training and job openings, and continue to diversify the pipeline. The regional skills analysis survey data will continue to drive momentum in developing a coordinated strategy between economic and workforce development partners.”

‘TALENT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE DRIVER …’

Michael Haley

Michael Haley, who leads Wake Economic Development, wrote for TechWire this summer as he reviewed incoming survey results that workforce remains crucial to the future.

“Talent has always been the driver for the success of Wake County and the Research Triangle region,” he explained. “The right talent, with the right skills. COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on talent and our labor force. As Ted pointed out, millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The labor force participation rate in the U.S. has also been declining for several years. What we also know from our own existing industry survey that Wake County Economic Development has just completed, is that many businesses have had to pivot and change their services or products to stay in business. When coupled, these issues present a daunting challenge to reskill or upskill our workforce; to help talent work in a new environment; and continue to attract talent to our market.”

ECONOMIST IMPRESSED

N.C. State economist Dr. Mike Walden, who researches job, business and talent trends extensively across the state and region, says there is much to like in the survey’s findings.

“I am not surprised by the expansion plans,” he tells WRAL TechWire. “We now have the end of the pandemic in our sights. The pandemic has reinforced the optimism for increased tech developments and applications in the future.  And – the Triangle and increasingly Charlotte are tech centers.”

The survey reflects Walden’s assessment.

Life science and bioscience firms are the most bullish about growth with 87% looking to expand. The Triangle already is one of the largest life science clusters in the US.

Second most positive are information technology, software and analytics firms – 83% expect to grow.

Job demand already exists with nearly 13,000 available high-tech jobs in the Triangle, according to the NC Technology Association.

Third strongest is manufacturing at 74%.

Commercial real estate firm CBRE | Raleigh also remains very bullish on the Triangle.

“Commercial real estate is more than land acquisition and towers. It’s really about fueling a community’s Live, Work, and Play experience. COVID-19 certainly impacted every angle of the Triangle’s business, entertainment and real estate industries,” the firm says.

“But in many ways we’re still just as desirable of a region, if not more so.”

JOB SKILLS TRENDS

A new trend is less importance placed on college by employers.

The survey found a substantial drop in the percentage of firms – down to 39% from 49% in a recent survey – who are looking to hire workers with college degrees – and employers are more open to other training.

The drop in 4-year-degree importance “indicates a strong variation in education expectations across industry,” according to the report.

“Positive trend towards acceptance of certifications and associates degrees across all industries among businesses sourcing talent,” the authors add.

Walden, a big advocate of apprenticeship program, understands the emerging trend.

“I am also not surprised by a focus on alternative training plans,” he says. “Tech is fast moving in its needs, and many of the future labor needs will be directed to limited skills, many of which can be acquired by focused training over a limited period of time.”

However, employers have other concerns about the workforce beyond qualifications.

“Similarly, to the survey results from 2017, businesses across all industries still struggle to find employees that have responsibility/self-discipline, the ability to think critically and to take initiative,” the report says.

“Survey respondents noted other soft skills such as empathy and acceptance of diversity are prioritized at the same level as other soft or technical skills.”

After reading the report, Walden says he is more encouraged about the region’s future.

“This survey bodes well for North Carolina in the post-pandemic economy,” he explains.

“In my opinion, the state will come out of the pandemic with its economic reputation intact, perhaps even enhanced.  NC will be among those destinations for households and businesses deciding to relocate as a result of COVID.”

Original Source: WRAL TechWire