Tennessee employers need more truckers, engineers, IT specialists

Robert Perez, a long-haul trucker from McAllen, Tex., talks about the profession as he stops at the I-24 rest area west of downtown on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Tennessee employers are filling only a portion of the available jobs in the state for truck drivers, industrial engineers and computer system analysts, according to a new study prepared for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Employers needing heavy- and tractor-trailer drivers are filling less than 12 percent of the jobs they have posted, creating an average monthly shortfall of 21,934 drivers in Tennessee. The Center for Economic Research in Tennessee, which conducts the employment analysis each year to help schools and colleges know jobs in most demand, estimates the demand for truck drivers in Tennessee will grow by 6,000 jobs in the next decade as thousands of Baby Boomer drivers retire.

Employers in the Volunteer State are filling only about one of every four available industrial engineering jobs, leaving a monthly gap of 755 industrial engineering jobs in Tennessee. The study showed Tennessee's manufacturing-based economy employs 55 percent more industrial engineers for its size than the United States as a whole.

Tennessee employers are filling barely half of the computer system analysts jobs posted each month, leaving a gap of IT jobs of 477 every month across the state.

The job gaps were revealed in the annual Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) report, a statewide and regional study of occupations in high demand based on labor shortages in high quality jobs throughout Tennessee.

The shortage of qualified workers comes despite above average pay for each of the three occupations most in demand. According to the American Trucking Association, the average annual pay for truck drivers in America is $73,000, or more than a fourth above the median pay for all workers.

"Far too long students have graduated with degrees that they cannot get jobs in while at the same time, businesses cannot find the skilled employees that they need," said Randy Boyd, commissioner for the Department of Economic and Community Development in Nashville. "The problem is businesses and community leaders and their partners in education aren't communicating and aren't aligned. The entire country has the same problem, but here in Tennessee we are doing something about it. With data by region showing exactly where the unmet need is, our business, education and community leaders can work together to precisely and clearly bridge these gaps."

LEAP is a statewide program to assist post-secondary institutions in producing skills and credentials that Tennessee employers need through alignment of education and industry.

Overall, the study identified 56 occupations with long-term projections of low workforce supply relative to employer demand.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.