GUY RAZ, host: Now, given what you've just heard about jobs, our next story may surprise you. There are job openings around the country, jobs that employers are desperate to fill. NPR's Chris Arnold reports on what economists call the labor mismatch.
CHRIS ARNOLD: Even with so many people looking for work, many employers out there say that they can't find the right people to hire.
KEVIN MIRNER: We have had a job trying to find qualified people, and on the...
ARNOLD: That's Kevin Mirner, the CEO of Harcros Chemicals in Kansas City. He was speaking with a panel of CEOs at a business school where this came up. Mirner says that he's having trouble finding people with chemical engineering degrees. But he also says that the problem is not with just such highly skilled workers.
MIRNER: Even farther down the distribution business, there's a shortage of truck drivers in this country. I mean, incredible when you think - I mean, there's a skill in driving trucks, don't get me wrong, but I mean, you know, it's not – you know, it's something people can learn. And we're finding there's a shortage. You listen to the radio, there's commercials for truck companies trying to attract drivers.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK DRIVING COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Attention Class A drivers, immediate job opportunities are now available at Rush Trucking. Why Rush Trucking?
ARNOLD: To find out whether that's really true, we called up Bob Petrancosta, a vice president at Con-way Freight. That's a big nationwide trucking company.
BOB PETRANCOSTA: It is very true. Contrary to logic, you know, as the economy continues to struggle and unemployment runs high, in the trucking industry, we're experiencing just the opposite: a driver shortage where demand for qualified drivers is very strong at the moment.
ARNOLD: Petrancosta says that many drivers are getting older and retiring. Meanwhile, he says, it can cost upwards of $4,000 for an unemployed person to go out to a good trucking school and get trained. The result of that, he says, is that trucking companies like his can't hire qualified people fast enough.
So the company has now started free driving schools to offer that training at 75 of its truck yards. And that's with a guaranteed job for people who complete the training.
PETRANCOSTA: We have, to date, over 18-month period when we first began the driving schools, we have graduated nearly 440 drivers and we have a retention rate of 98 percent.
ARNOLD: Petrancosta says that's because these are good jobs. At least at his company, there's no long hauls, so the drivers sleep in their own beds every night. And the pay is not too bad either.
PETRANCOSTA: A driver with Con-way Freight can expect to make 60, $70,000 driving a truck.
ARNOLD: But okay, so there's this big demand for truck drivers right now. But how does all this fit into the overall jobs picture? How many good jobs like this are actually going unfulfilled because employers can't find workers with the right skills? This is what economists call mismatch in the labor market.
Dr. GIORGIO TOPA: There's always going to be some level of mismatch in the economy.
ARNOLD: That's Giorgio Topa, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He studies this issue, along with his co-economists at the New York Fed, named Aysegul Sahin.
One thing that we wanted to ask them about is this idea that's been kicked around, that the housing market crash has trapped people in their homes. They can't sell their houses and so that means they can't move to find a new job.
Dr. AYSEGUL SAHIN: So one thing I can tell you before - while Giorgio is looking at numbers - is we find that geographic mismatch is not very important.
ARNOLD: The economists say recent research has debunked that idea. As far as how many jobs are going unfilled...
TOPA: There's anywhere between four and five million available jobs right now in the economy. Maybe about one million goes unfilled because of this mismatch between employers and job-seekers.
ARNOLD: So that actually sounds like a significant number of jobs that are going unfilled.
TOPA: Yeah, right.
ARNOLD: If those million jobs could be filled, that would drop the unemployment rate from around nine percent down to around eight percent. But these economists stress that these are ballpark figures and you really couldn't really fill all these jobs that way. You'd have to take construction workers and turn them into doctors overnight, or take English majors and make them engineers.
Most of the mismatch also involves higher-skilled workers, so there aren't too many opportunities like trucking, where some quick training can actually land a good-paying job.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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