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48th and Leighton development

An iron worker guides an I-beam into place in June at one of the two buildings being erected at 48th Street and Leighton Avenue as part of a mixed-use project that will offer nearly 200 apartments as well as bars and restaurants.

Companies in the Lincoln area are having more trouble filling jobs than they were just a few years ago, despite the fact that a perceived "skills gap" has improved.

Those are two of the key findings of the "Lincoln Area Skills Gap Report" prepared by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The report, written by Bureau Director Eric Thompson and released last month, found that more than 70 percent of employers in the Lincoln metro area reported having trouble hiring in the past year, up from 62.5 percent three years ago.

That was despite a large decline in the percentage of companies that said they couldn't find candidates with the right skills.

Nearly 42 percent of companies said their hiring troubles were due mainly to applicants lacking the right skills, which was down from 55 percent three years ago.

The three other main hiring factors measured in the report all increased, however.

Nearly 30 percent of companies said applicant wage demands were too high, up from 26 percent in the previous report.

Pat Haverty, vice president of the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, said he constantly hears from companies that competition for employees is fierce, and "that's driving up wages in the community."

The number of companies citing poor work history among applicants rose from just more than 41 percent to nearly 45 percent, while those that reported applicants failed a background check rose slightly, from 22.5 percent to 23.3 percent.

Thompson said in an email that he found it "notable that employer concerns with workforce quality such as work history and background checks are often as prominent as concerns about skill level."

Most occupations, especially "white-collar" ones, do not have a shortage of workers, according to the report. For example, just counting new college graduates, there are nearly twice as many candidates as there are jobs for business and financial services and nearly five times as many graduates as there are jobs in architecture and engineering.

In fact, the report found that annually, there are about 9,320 job applicants in the Lincoln area and 7,260 open jobs.

However, in blue-collar fields such as manufacturing, transportation and construction, there are fewer workers than there are jobs even when counting all available candidates, including people moving into the area from somewhere else.

The report also shows worker deficits in fields such as food service and personal care.

"It was notable that Lincoln appears to have enough new college graduates to meet entry-level job openings but a deficit of workers in many blue-collar and service occupations," Thompson said in an email. "In particular, there is a deficit in many skilled blue-collar occupations such as carpenters, machinists and welders."

It's not just companies having trouble finding workers. The report found that workers say they are having difficulties finding a job.

Nearly 67 percent of local job seekers cited a lack of adequate opportunities, up from less than 62 percent three years ago. Nearly 67 percent also cited inadequate pay, which was up from 64.4 percent.

The job hurdle that saw the biggest jump was a lack of training, with 37 percent of job seekers citing it as an issue, up from 30.5 percent three years ago.

When it comes to training, a large number of employers said they are training existing employees to fill highly skilled roles that will become vacant because of retirements, with 47 percent of companies reporting they are doing this versus only 14.5 percent reporting they are hiring new employees with the needed skills.

"It was noteworthy that the vast majority of employers address skills lost due to impending retirements through retraining existing workers rather than hiring new workers," Thompson said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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