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Washington Roundtable: The Skills Gap in Washington State

March 28, 2013

A report released this week by The Boston Consulting Group and the Washington Roundtable was designed to encourage Washington legislators to take bold action to address the shortage of skilled workers in the state. It highlights the significant gap between available positions and qualified workers to perform them.

Based on this analysis, we concluded that there are currently approximately 25,000 “acute” unfilled jobs in the state of Washington as a result of the job skills gap. Approximately 80 percent of those openings are in highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, such as computer science and engineering, and high-demand health care occupations.

The report defines an “acute skills gap” existing in situations in which “a company is unable to fill positions that have remained open for three months or more due to a lack of qualified candidates – based on educational, experience and quality requirements – while offering a prevailing market wage.”

This study, as well as many other economic analyses, have identified the “multiplier effect” which quantifies the additional economic activity and job opportunities which result from filling each high-skill position. According to the report, “[b]ased on conservative multiplier estimates, filling the 50,000 skills gap related jobs projected to exist by 2017 will result in another 110,000 jobs in Washington state.” Specific multipliers were identified for particular industries (a multiplier of four would indicate that, for each position filled, three other positions are created):

• Computer Science: 4.6

• Engineering: 4.0

• Healthcare: 1.7

• Other positions: 2.7 (A weighted average)

One of the key recommendations in the report is expansion of employment-based immigration.

Accessing international talent remains a critical strategy along with state strategies to build the capacity to prepare enough skilled workers to close the job skills gap. This is not primarily a state issue, as H1-B visas for high-skilled knowledge workers are controlled at the federal level. However, as one of the nation’s most technology-dependent economies, Washington is more affected than most states by limits placed on this source of talent. Therefore, the state’s private and public sector leadership should work with Washington’s congressional delegation to encourage substantial increases in the H1-B visa limit.

Based upon projections from USCIS, the H-1B cap for the entire fiscal year of 2014, which begins on October 01, 2013, is expected to be reached within the first week in which petitions will be accepted, beginning April 1st.

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