Nearly half of Miami area business leaders now say this is their No. 1 concern

Miami-Dade businesses are still on the hunt for qualified job candidates.

But a new survey published by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce shows there’s a new top concern among area corporations.

The chamber and Miami-based accounting group MBAF, which produced the survey, found that 44 percent of local business leaders said “staying on top of technology trends” is now their most pressing issue in the coming year, topping “finding qualified professional candidates,” which was last year’s greatest concern.

Survey co-producer Wolfgang Pinther, director of marketing at MBAF, said that keeping up with technology that lowers costs has become paramount. He used the example of his own firm, which recently hired an innovation manager to find efficiencies in the company and otherwise automate tasks that may be costing the company.

“The way technology is developing and moving so quickly, and with automation taking such a major role...senior leaders and now extremely focused on this issue,” he said.

A combination of factors likely explain the reduced urgency among firms to find qualified candidates, which was last year’s survey’s top concern. Only 51 percent of this year’s respondents said they expect to increase full-time staff in the coming year, down from 58 percent in 2018.

And if employers need qualified candidates, there are plenty to choose from, if local jobs fairs are any indication. Tiffany Cordeschi, job events coordinator at JobNews USA, which programs major job fairs in South Florida. estimated that two-thirds of attendees at a recent job fairs already have jobs, meaning they’re likely to be a bit more job-ready than those currently without employment.

Cordeschi further notes that the fairs have been at capacity — meaning hiring managers can be choosy. At the Oct. 9 job fair in Miami Lakes, Cordeschi said, the fair was at capacity for all four hours scheduled.

“They come in work uniform, but say, ‘We’re always looking,’” Cordeschi said.

And yet, a skills mismatch persists, according to chamber president and CEO Alfred Sanchez. He estimates there are 400,000 people looking for work in the region, and 200,000 job openings.

“So why do we have any jobs open at all? It’s a skills gap,” he said. “We know that we have that in Miami — it’s something we also heard during the Amazon proposal period. So we’re working on it.”

Sanchez said the South Florida Business Council, a tri-county agency created in February to address local economic concerns, is working with federal authorities to expand Pell grant eligibility to help close the gap.

The grants, which can cover the cost of training for low-income candidates, can only be applied toward occupations requiring 600 hours of coursework. Should that threshold be lowered to apply to occupations like mechanics or law-enforcement officers, the gap would narrow, Sanchez said.

Other data points indicate a flat hiring market. JCPenney has begun hiring locally for its holiday crunch — but a spokesperson said the number of slots the retailer is looking to fill is slightly lower than in previous years. LinkedIn’s monthly local jobs report also shows a hiring slowdown.

And Pinther notes his survey shows an increasing number of business leaders are focused on retention rather than hiring. Retention was the third most-urgent concern among respondents this year, compared with last year’s fifth-place showing.

“The feeling I got [looking at survey responses] was CEOs are focused on benefits and retention, and making sure current employees are happy,” Pinther said. “The CEOs are saying, ‘Look, we’ve hired, we’re up to par with the amount of people we need, and now what do we need to keep them, train them and make sure we’re engaging with them, and keeping them satisfied.”

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