Why it is getting harder to fill full-time positions in Central Texas

Typhoon Texas Austin opened May 27 in Pflugerville, hiring 600 employees.

Typhoon Texas Austin opened May 27 in Pflugerville, hiring 600 employees.

The number of potential employees is not growing at the same pace as new jobs in Central Texas, according to 2017 statistics from the Texas Workforce Commission and U.S. Department of Labor.

What that means for the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto areas is fewer job candidates when employers are hiring for full-time positions. Technology jobs and medical care positions are among the fastest-growing in Williamson and Travis counties, said Mark Sprague, state director of information capital for Independence Title in Austin.

Sprague, who spoke at the May 23 Round Rock Chamber Power Lunch, said the area is a phenomenal market experiencing the longest positive run he has seen in his lifetime.

“We are in a good place,” Sprague said of job creation and the economy in the Austin area. “But it’s slower than 2016.”

Sprague said the attraction of corporation leaders, especially a trend of California companies moving their headquarters to Texas, continues to help the local economy.

Experts: Filling area full-time positions is difficult in era of low unemploymentJob growth remains fast-paced

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers that showed 30,400 jobs were created in Texas in April. Of those, 10,400 were in education and health services, 8,100 were in manufacturing, and 7,400 were in professional and business services.

The labor force of 280,324 in Williamson County has 270,901 employed with 3.4 percent unemployment, and the Travis County labor force of 694,404 has 673,157 employed with 3.1 percent unemployment. Statewide, the unemployment rate is at 4.5 percent.

Christopher Haynie, manager of the Round Rock office of The Daniel Group, said Austin’s job growth far exceeds state and national averages across most sectors.

According to The Daniel Group, an executive search firm that also offers contract staffing, the Austin market is booming with innovative startups and technology firms, and the thriving university community has secured the city’s spot as “one of the top tech towns in the country.”

“Finding and retaining good people is always a challenge,” Haynie said. “Growth is good, but growth is painful. There are a lot of good, large companies coming into the area. With a low unemployment rate, it’s tougher to match employees with the companies.”

Haynie said his company works with several nonprofits for training and staffing, too.

“We’ll continue to adjust to the market trends,” Haynie said. “There’s a wide range of commercial and industrial jobs coming.”

Al Lopez, a planner for Worforce Solutions-Rural Capital Area in Round Rock, said the greatest need is for retail positions, wait staff, cashiers, cooks and janitors, and construction laborers rank high along with accountants and auditors, computer systems positions and elementary school teachers. Those needs, projected 10 years out, Lopez said, will remain an issue when finding employees.

Jobs are often hard to fill, Lopez said, because wages are low and there are gaps in skills.

"Job seekers' abilities don't match the job requirements," Lopez said. "Another often-cited reason from job seekers, especially those at the higher skill level, is the ever-longer interview process. Those job seekers are beginning to take the first job offered."

The important first step, as high school graduates look at a future career, Lopez said, is to look at what education level is needed to succeed in a certain field. The decision of  a bachelor's degree; trade school;  a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, degree; or a professional degree is the first step of planning, he said.

Experts: Filling area full-time positions is difficult in era of low unemploymentLocal Unemployment is low

Low unemployment rates are a sign of a thin market when it comes to hiring, said Mike Odom, Round Rock Chamber president and CEO.

The latest labor market data for several Texas Metropolitan Statistical Areas shows unemployment rates among the lowest in the Austin-Round Rock MSA. In fact, at 3.2 percent, Austin-Round Rock is tied for second in Texas with the Lubbock and College Station-Bryan MSAs. Amarillo has the lowest Texas unemployment at 3 percent.

The highest unemployment rate in Texas is 8 percent in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA, followed by Brownsville-Harlingen at 7.5 percent and Beaumont-Port Arthur at 7.4 percent.

The Austin-Round Rock MSA includes Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties. The unemployment numbers are from the latest report from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. May’s report will be released June 16.

Nationally, Austin-Round Rock was the 66th lowest of 382 MSAs for unemployment numbers. Ames, Iowa, and Boulder, Colorado, led the nation with 2 percent unemployment.

At the other end of the spectrum, double-digit unemployment numbers are reported in 10 California MSAs as well as one in New Jersey and one in Arizona.

Addressing the needs

In Round Rock and the surrounding area, Odom said discussion is lively between the chamber and businesses to focus on skilled trades. He said many companies have the goal of educating current employees to help with retention.

“They learn new skills to increase their positions in the company and earn more money,” Odom said. “Businesses are doing well here, so they are just trying to maintain. Hiring and retention has a lot of competition, and new skills can give the edge to a thin pipeline of potential job candidates.”

Additionally, high schools and businesses in Central Texas have teamed with colleges and universities to fill certain jobs.

Sprague said trade positions will become critical to fill soon, citing the average age of a plumber as 58 years old, electricians at 53 and appraisers at age 50-plus.

Odom said one program is addressing that need locally.

In April a partnership was announced among the Round Rock Chamber, Austin Community College and Round Rock ISD that will offer a certification program that allows students to get certified for plumbing or heating, ventilation and air conditioning jobs before students graduate high school.

“Over the last five years we have heard so many times that HVAC and plumbing are two areas that have significant employment needs because our community is growing,” said Amy Mizcles, Round Rock Chamber vice president of community enhancement. “We want to make sure unemployed and underemployed students can learn these trades and be connected with businesses in the local community to have internships, but also jobs to be part of the workforce.”

RRISD supplies the building, assists in student and employee recruitment for the program, and supplies maintenance and facility upgrades as part of the agreement. ACC’s Continuing Education Workforce Development Department will enhance the facility for the program and provide college-level instructors, curriculum and training. The chamber will assist with internship placement and recruiting and serve as a liaison with the city regarding the permit process.

The TWC also offers a grant program for companies looking to train employees. The grants pay for classes through local colleges.

Lopez said other programs and training include the skills development fund, skills training for small businesses, skills training for veterans, high-demand job-training matching fund grants, Texas Industry Partnership matching fund grants, the self-sufficiency fund program and the apprentice program.

Experts: Filling area full-time positions is difficult in era of low unemploymentSeasonal positions

Several businesses and municipalities reported a positive experience hiring seasonal help for the spring and summer.

Typhoon Texas Austin in Pflugerville has among the highest number of seasonal employees in the area. The company took over management of the water park near SH 130 and SH 45, across from Stone Hill Town Center. Typhoon Texas invested more than $4 million before opening May 27.

Earlier this year, the business announced it was hiring 600 part-time employees.

Typhoon Texas General Manager Ty Weitzel said the company was able to find quality employees for the first year of his company managing the water park.

“We started hiring right away, and we’ll be working with good people. There’s a lot of pride here, and everybody is working hard.”

The city of Round Rock has hired 220 seasonal employees so far, most as lifeguards, water safety instructors, pool attendants, pool managers and camp counselors. In Pflugerville, the city has hired approximately 130 seasonal employees, with the highest number being for pools and summer maintenance. In Hutto, the city has about 20 seasonal employees, most in parks and recreation.

Another water park, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, is expected to open in May 2020 in Round Rock. Once completed, the resort will employ more than 700 full-time

“Kalahari—you all don’t have a clue what’s about to hit you,” Sprague said. “You can’t compare Kalahari to anything else. It’s very positive. For every job they bring, 3.5 are created.”

By Joe Warner
Joe Warner is executive editor of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as managing editor for Central Texas and senior editor of the flagship Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto newspaper. He came to Central Texas from Metro Detroit, where he was editor and general manager of several daily and weekly publications. He is the former president of the Michigan Press Association and was on the MPA board of directors for nine years.