Businesses across the country are having difficulty finding employees, and Southern Oklahoma is not immune to the situation. According to Bill Murphy, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce and the Ardmore Development Authority, one of the major factors both nationwide and closer to home is the drop in workforce participation.
"To get your labor participation rate, you look at the people who are eligible to be in the labor force and divide that number by the people who are actually currently employed or actively looking for work," Murphy said. "Nationally that number is just under 62%. That's down from the highs of 70% and above."
Murphy noted the unemployment rate for the Ardmore area in November, the most recent month for which data is available, was 2.1%. Nationwide, unemployment for the same time period was 4.2%.
"When you combine those two things, you've got a recipe for a tight labor market," he said.
Murphy said one of the ways to increase the labor force in Southern Oklahoma would be to increase the population.
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"That's not to say we want to become a Dallas or Oklahoma City, but we need to find a way to keep the folks who are leaving our school systems each year and choosing to go off to other locations to begin their careers," he said. "To keep them here and attract more people to the area, we need to continue to work on the quality of life elements that make places attractive to people."
Murphy said second way of improving the unemployment situation is to work with employers and educators to ensure that people will have the skills they need to enter into the labor force.
"It's so important to communicate with our employers to find out what their employment needs are go to be," he said. "It's good to take a longterm look into what's happening in a particular industry to find out they skillset and number of employees they are going to need. We need to look at the pipeline and not only address the fact that they have 10 openings right now."
Finally, Murphy said the community needs to find ways of getting those who are no longer in the labor force reengaged.
"Like a lot of the country, we have people who aren't in the labor force because of health issues — physical, mental, and those suffering from substance abuse," Murphy said. "Those may not always be thought of as economic development or workforce issues, but they are very much a part of it. We need to continue to engage our social service and health care providers so that we're keeping more people employed and finding ways to get those who can get back into the labor force working again."
This article originally appeared on The Daily Ardmoreite: Ardmore city officials finding ways to improve workforce participation