The Daily News
By Michael Waddell
Each year the Center for Economic Research in Tennessee puts together its Labor and Education Alignment Program report detailing which jobs are most in demand statewide and for each of the state’s nine economic and community development regions.
The report found 111 occupations with high employer demand in the Greater Memphis area, including information technology (IT), health care, engineering, business and financial operations, and transportation and material moving.
“Welders are in high demand in seven of the state’s regions, including Greater Memphis,” said CERT director Sally H. Avery. “The employment concentration of welders in the Greater Memphis region is 57 percent below the national average. Welding programs offered at higher education institutions are critical for the development of this workforce.”
The 2017 Labor and Education Alignment Program, or LEAP report notes that the average wage for machinists is nearly $45,000 in Memphis, more than 8 percent higher than the national average. Machinists are especially in demand in medical device manufacturing and advanced and general manufacturing.
“Obviously forklift drivers and warehouse workers will always be in high demand in Memphis because the city is a distribution hub,” said John Churchill, vice president of business services for the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, adding those living-wage jobs average about $15 an hour.
GMACW, the workforce arm of the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County, did its own study in 2016 of jobs that are in the highest demand in the Mid-South.
Churchill expects all aspects of IT and the technical side of manufacturing to remain in demand.
“As manufacturing comes back into the United States from overseas, Memphis is a fairly popular place where not only existing companies are expanding, but new companies are coming in,” Churchill said. “What they’re looking for are individuals who can perform some of the higher tech jobs like multi-craft or maintenance.”
In the 1980s, there were more skilled technicians available locally to fill high-demand manufacturing jobs, but as Memphis became more of a logistics and distribution hub those workers became more scarce.
“When you talk about other high demand areas, one that comes to mind is the medical field,” Churchill said.
Nearly all medical field positions are expected to stay in high demand for the foreseeable future, according to Avery.
“As more and more of the baby-boomer generation reach retirement age, the need for health care workers will continue to grow,” Avery said. “The health care industry is a unique strength of the Greater Memphis region – from facilities to schools.”
One low-tech position that remains in high demand is truck driver.
“It would not take you very long – six to 12 weeks – to learn how to drive a truck, but within months you could be making a good living, whether you are driving local or long distance,” Churchill said. “The ratio for the amount of training that it takes to become skilled, or get your license, versus how much you can make is a pretty good ratio.”
Interestingly, despite the fact that people are banking more online and branches are smaller, bank teller ranked as the No. 4 fastest-growing job for the Memphis region.
“The responsibilities of tellers may be shifting, but not disappearing,” Avery said. “Banking institutions in Memphis are performing well. Local deposits at banks in the Memphis MSA grew by 23.2 percent from 2011 to 2016, surpassing the growth rate for local deposits in Tennessee of 18.5 percent.”
She points out that “bank teller” actually includes many different job titles, including account representatives, bank tellers, customer relationship specialists, customer service associates, customer service representatives, member services representative, personal banking representatives, roving tellers and teller coordinators.
While many occupation categories detailed in the LEAP report have substantial openings, some like translators/interpreters showed up with large percentage gains but have little impact on the job pool overall locally.
“What happens with new and emerging occupations is their growth will appear large, but not generate many jobs,” said University of Memphis professor of economics Dr. John E. Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the Center for Manpower Studies. “Many of the other occupations are so small (like translator/interpreter jobs) and selective they have limited impact on a large labor market like Memphis or the training that can be provided.”