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Upstate NY Business Leader Survey

Upstate New York CEOs Report Gaps in Workforce Supply, Training

Only 28% of CEOs in Upstate New York believe there is an ample supply of local workers that are appropriately trained, according to a recent poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) and sponsored by the Business Council of New York State, with additional support provided by Western Governors University (WGU). The figure is down from a more confident 2013, when 51% of respondents thought there was an ample supply of local workers with needed skills.

Of the 1,036 CEO respondents in 2021 to the annual Upstate New York Business Leader Survey, a majority (61%) said there is not an ample supply of workers that are appropriately trained for their employment needs. The view was consistently held across regions and sectors, and is even more troubling because, according to the poll, some employees also don’t have access to the training required to improve their skill levels. In the same poll, just 22% of business leaders said that the local workforce has access to training for the relevant skills, in all positions, that their companies will need over the next five years. 

With the New York unemployment rate in February at 8.9% and well above the national unemployment rate of 6.2%, a trained workforce will be vital to the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Local industries, ranging from health care to information technology, all require a qualified and skilled workforce to maintain and continuously modernize their service and product offerings. Without a top-notch talent pool prepared with relevant 21st century skills, businesses face the possibility of failing to remain competitive. 

“There is an obvious demand in the marketplace for people in New York State with industry-specific preparation who can hit the ground running,” said WGU Regional Vice President Rebecca Watts, Ph.D. “WGU’s competency-based model exists for exactly this purpose.”

Key findings.

  • 28% of CEOs in Upstate New York believe there is an ample supply of local workers that are appropriately trained for their employment needs.
  • 61% of CEOs in Upstate New York said there is not an ample supply of local workers that are appropriately trained for their employment needs.
  • 22% of business leaders feel that the local workforce, in general, has access to training for the relevant skills, in all positions, that their companies will need over the next five years.
  • 57% of CEOs said the next generation of leadership is already within their companies. 
  • 21% of businesses do not have active processes in place to encourage employee growth and development. 
  • The survey results highlight the need for innovative, cost-effective, skills-based educational programs to close gaps in workforce training and succession planning. 

Competency-based education measures skills and subject knowledge rather than time spent in a classroom. In 1997, nonprofit, accredited WGU pioneered the model, where each student individually progresses through courses as soon as they can prove they have mastered the material. 

Said Watts, “In each of WGU’s four colleges—business, health professions, information technology, and teaching—competency-based degree programs align with workforce imperatives and are highly-adaptable, allowing education and industry partners to create and refine high-quality learning pathways.”

In the poll, more than half (57%) of CEOs said the next generation of leadership already exists within their companies. The results also show an opportunity to develop upskilling programs for existing employees, as one in five (21%) businesses do not have any active processes in place to encourage employee growth and development. WGU partners with local businesses to support human resource objectives and expand access to higher education for their employees. These initiatives strengthen efforts to retain employees, who can earn a degree through WGU’s innovative model while continuing to work full-time.

The SCRI survey, conducted from January to March 2021, provides a snapshot into business leaders’ perceptions as they face a challenging post-COVID economic and workforce recovery. Four in five (80%) CEOs said that economic conditions in New York State have worsened; 40% expect improvement in 2021; and 34% expect revenue growth in the coming year.

Watts continued, “Career-relevant education programs that are innovative, skills-based, and low-cost will be key to post-COVID economic recovery for individuals, employers, families, and communities in New York.”

With rolling start dates at the first of each month, WGU has a low-cost, flat-rate tuition per six-month term, during which students can complete as many courses as their schedules allow. A 2019 Gallup survey found that 42 percent of WGU undergraduate alumni completed a degree without taking out student loans. For those that did borrow, the average debt in 2019 was $14,941, compared to the national average of $29,900.

Methodology: The Siena College Research Institute’s 14th Annual Upstate Business Leader  Survey was conducted January 12 – March 12, 2021, by mail and internet interviews with 1,036 business leaders from across Upstate New York, including the Capital Region, Central New York/Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson, Southern Tier, Westchester, and Western New York.


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