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September 28, 2006

Projected labor shortages not a concern

Federal labor projections indicate that both teaching and administrative jobs in post-secondary education will outpace the average labor force growth in the coming years, but Pitt administrators aren’t worried about a shortage.

While employment is projected to grow 13 percent between 2004 and 2014, post-secondary education administration jobs are expected to increase 21.3 percent and post-secondary teaching jobs are expected to be among the jobs with the largest growth with a projected increase of 32.2 percent over 2004.

The anticipated increases are attributed in part to increasing numbers of students as children of the last of the baby boomers reach college age, coupled with rising demand in general for higher education. (At Pitt, freshman enrollment increased 34 percent between 1995 and 2005.)

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the growing nationwide need translates into more than a half-million new post-secondary teaching jobs and 28,000 new post-secondary administration jobs across the country by 2014.

In spite of concerns in academia about the growing need for faculty and staff and the shrinking pool of qualified applicants fueled by aging baby boomers’ retirements, Pitt administrators aren’t concerned.

“We haven’t needed to combat it,” said Human Resources Associate Vice Chancellor Ronald W. Frisch. “The Northeast is an abundant area as far as talent,” he said. “We’re in a fortunate position.”

And while there was an uptick in retirement as 445 faculty and staff took advantage of the recently concluded two-year window that allowed a choice of retiree health plans, Pitt employees tend to stay beyond age 62, when they first are eligible to retire. Pitt employees’ average retirement age in FY06 was 65.68 with 22.85 years of service, Frisch said.

The administration is counting on Pitt’s reputation to insulate it from any crunch in finding sufficient qualified faculty. Unlike staff recruitment, which mainly draws from the local labor pool, faculty are recruited nationally and internationally, said Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Andrew Blair.

New faculty arrive at Pitt each year — about 300 this year — mostly to fill existing vacancies. “We have a high standard of excellence in terms of hiring,” Blair said. “A school may have some vacancies but we don’t run right out and fill them. We want to get the best people.”

Faculty slots generally are advertised in national publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and recruitment is targeted toward junior and selected senior faculty at peer research institutions.

Pitt’s reputation, both as a research institution and in having top-ranked schools within the University, is a magnet, administrators say.

“We are a major powerhouse in the research area,” Blair said. “That makes your job in hiring much easier.”

And, Pitt’s regionals, by being more focused on undergraduate education rather than research, draw from a subset of the national market. Faculty recruited to the regionals tend to have different career goals (more teaching- rather than research-oriented) and desire a different setting than the Pittsburgh campus. “They’re not recruiting from the college next door,” Blair said.

In addition to reputation, the faculty already on board draw as well. “Once you have critical mass of outstanding talent other people want to come be a part of that,” Blair said.

Steven Kanter, vice dean of Pitt’s medical school, echoed Blair’s sentiment regarding Pitt’s ability to draw top talent. “It’s because of the reputation of the University as a whole and the reputation of the medical school, and the fact that Pittsburgh is a great place to live, a great place to work and raise a family,” he said.

Unlike other areas of the University, growth in the number of students seeking higher education does not directly affect the School of Medicine, which limits the number of students in the program, Kanter said, “We have a set number of matriculants.”

The federal labor figures do little to project the future for staff employment at colleges and universities, although the U.S. Department of Education recently released statistics that show university employment (including faculty, administrators and other staff members) grew 22 percent in the decade between 1993 and 2003, faster than the total civilian labor force, which grew 13 percent during the same period.

State Department of Labor and Industry projections estimate that employment at colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area will grow by 2.8 percent, adding 1,060 new jobs between 2002 and 2012 and outpacing the region’s expected 0.6 percent growth rate.

While faculty and top administrative jobs may be filled by casting a national or international net, most staff positions at Pitt are filled locally. Some 250-300 staff jobs are vacant at any given time, with about 30 percent filled from within, Frisch said. And, “We get volumes of resumes every day.” The PittSource online employment database has more than 21,000 active resumes (those submitted within a year) on file.

“From a staff perspective, our number of openings and time taken to fill openings at the University has not significantly changed in the last five years,” Frisch said.

HR recruiters target career fairs and graduate programs in their efforts to find the right candidate for positions, but Frisch said word-of-mouth through professional networking and faculty and staff referrals is the most successful recruitment tool.

In fiscal year 2006, during which 1,424 staff jobs were filled, the average time to get a new person in place in a job at Pitt was 49 days. Frisch said it’s difficult when the University doesn’t fill a particular position as fast as it could, but there’s a reason. “We don’t fill it because we’re looking for the right candidate,” he said.

“I think recruiting is an issue, I think recruiting is always an issue.” But, he said, “The bigger concern is finding the right candidate. I hope we never lose that concern. Fit to me is the critical aspect.”

Filling open positions and planning for future employment needs is a partnership between HR and the departments throughout the University, he said.

When HR staffers alert various departments about government job projections or trends, “Ten out of 10 times, they already know it” and, given the expertise here, might even have contributed to the research behind the reports, Frisch said. And because Pitt is a large employer, what happens here affects the region’s numbers. “Our statistics are setting some of the norms,” he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 3

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