Kansas has a lot of jobs, but not enough people to fill them

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — While the Kansas economy continues to add jobs, state and labor officials are considering ways to address a looming shortage of workers, particularly in high-demand careers like health care.

The state’s recent monthly economic report showed that Kansas created 14,000 jobs in the last year and has an unemployment rate of 3.3%. But the state’s total labor force dropped from a high of 1.521 million in 2009 to 1.479 million in July, The Kansas News Service reported.

Despite the strong economy, Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia hopes state officials will take a long view and begin addressing the worker shortage. She wants officials to work more closely with education and business groups to train workers, while lawmakers and others officials craft economic development programs to attract people to Kansas.

“We are in good shape in Kansas, we are stable,” García said. “But we also want to be looking forward.”

One of the factors facing the state is a population that has not grown for the last few years, said Tyler Tenbrink, senior labor economist in the state labor department. Other factors include a baby boomer generation retiring or preparing to retire, leaving jobs that remain unfilled longer.

“We also have students who are staying in school longer, so they’re not getting into the labor force as quickly,” Tenbrink said.

The health care sector, which is already struggling to find workers, is likely to face more pressure in coming decades, as the population of older Kansans is expected to grow faster than the state overall.

The Kansas Hospital Association compiled a report that named jobs with expected shortages, ranging from nurses to nursing assistants and home health aides.

“These are the folks that care for people, that are at the bedside,” KHA Vice President Cindy Samuelson said.

To address the problem, hospitals are partnering with colleges and universities to market their good-paying careers. Many positions just require a two-year degree, and people can work in the industry while training for a future higher position.

Some hospitals are working to recruit outside of Kansas but those workers don’t always stay for the long term. It has led some to find and train local hires, which Samuelson calls “growing your own.”

“There is a lot of cost associated with training and getting that person up to speed, and if they’re only there a short amount of years there is a loss,” she said.