Economy: Job openings in southwestern Idaho

by Judy Ferro

You don’t have to be well versed in economics to know that the job situation has been getting better in the past few years.

One of the hardest things about canvassing in 2010 was hearing the stories of the unemployed.  Many had been at the same job for years and had never imagined it being cut. I remember telling one young man happy about his job how great it was to hear his story after all the depressing ones I’d heard that day.  The man immediately saddened and told me how hard his father’s situation was now that he’d lost his job.

Canyon County’s unemployment rate peaked at 11.3% that year; This August it was down to 5.1%.  That’s about average for the nation, but higher than Idaho’s average rate of 4.2%.

Statistics from the Idaho Department of Labor this month indicate there are currently 14,880 job openings in Southwestern Idaho. Isn’t that an amazing number?  The year I graduated from high school, the employment service predicted 103 job openings in Canyon County for the next decade, with the highest demand for barbers and PE teachers. (It’s a wonder that my classmates didn’t all leave the state.)

The jobs with over 500 openings in southwestern Idaho today are heavy and truck drivers ($36,445) and registered nurses ($60,518).  Others with over 200 current openings include supervisors of retail sales workers ($34,551), janitors ($20,829), customer service representatives ($26,598), and retail salespersons ($21,464).  (Neither barbers nor PE teachers made the list.)

You have to dig a little deeper to see why there is so much concern about getting 60% of Idaho’s kids to enroll in higher education.  Six different computer-related jobs are listed with a total of 834 openings and salaries ranging from $38,515 to $79.086. That’s a sizeable number of good-paying jobs.

More impressive, however, is the growth in openings for speech pathologists, physical therapists, and health service managers.  They have more than doubled since last year, growing from 159 to 365 ($66,747 to $77,828).  No fields outside of medicine rivaled that growth.

Whenever I’ve heard how important it is for high school graduates to get more education, I’ve envisioned unfilled jobs in high tech and engineering. I have read so many Micron job listings requiring degrees I’ve never heard of that jobs in nursing and truck driving didn’t come to mind. I’m not even sure those concerned about kids getting more education meant truck driving school.

Just what were the predictions of 2022 employment that set the push for higher education off?

Checking the Department of Labor’s 2012 study, I was surprised to find only 1,900 new jobs predicted for mathematics and computers and 1,300 for architecture and engineering.

The highest number of predicted new jobs are for office and administrative support, food preparation and serving, and sales (13,000, 12,500 and 11,300).  These are fields in which education may be an asset, but is not usually a requirement.  (Micron’s sales force, however, needs advanced degrees to understand how available technology can be adapted to customer needs).

Growth of 10-15% was predicted for fields ranging from transportation, production, and farming/fishing/forestry to law, media, and education.

Growth of 25% was expected in construction and extraction and in all three health care categories.

            I guess that I will stop humphing about neither of my daughters finding Idaho jobs in their technical fields and start recommending nursing certificates to those starting out—unless they like to drive trucks.  (My brother and dad used to sneak away from the muffler business for a truck ride whenever they got the chance.)

         The reports referred to above can be found at www.lmi.idaho.gov.

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