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Science Careers Blog

June 2, 2008

Is this (job) heaven? No, it's Iowa

The New York Times on Saturday ran a story about a worker shortage in Iowa, including a deficit of specialists in advanced technology. Because of an historically tepid economy and a reputation for being out in the middle of nowhere, many of Iowa's best and brightest young workers have ventured elsewhere to make a living. As a result, skilled job seekers in Iowa are finding themselves in hot demand.

Des Moines technology entrepreneur Steven Smith, for example, says he spends 5 to 10 hours a week recruiting skilled staff. Smith needs to expand his payroll from about 35 to 50, but it isn't easy. "You’ve got to work at it," says Smith. "They’re not just going to come to you." Greater Des Moines alone faces a worker shortfall of 60,000 in the next decade.

One of the key reasons for the skilled worker shortage is Iowa's lower salaries, which has the effect of both bringing new employers to Iowa and driving local talent away. At the same time, the story notes, Iowa's population is aging -- the state's median age is two years older than the country overall -- and the weak housing market is making it tougher for people to sell their homes if they want to relocate. But for companies who need skilled technical talent, like Iowa's burgeoning insurance and financial services industries, the shortage is forcing employers to give promotions to their current staff and add amenities, like fitness centers.

The story says Iowa's situation may be a harbinger for the rest of the country. According to labor economists Anthony P. Carnevale and Donna M. Desrochers, because of baby boomer retirements and more job creation, the U.S. could face a worker shortage as high as 14 million by the year 2020.

Full disclosure: B.A., University of Iowa, 1967.

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