On Nov. 14, 2023, the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority (Savannah JDA) in partnership with existing industries released the results of the Regional Workforce Study conducted by Donovan Gutshaw Consulting, LLC (WDGC).
The study’s goal was to identify the labor supply challenges facing the Savannah region employers and develop initiatives that will minimize the exposure to existing and future supply shortfalls. The scope of the study included a market analysis, identifying needs and challenges and providing a strategic workforce plan.
As a part of the study, key regional industries, economic development organizations, higher education, K-12 school systems, county and municipal leaders and local staffing agencies were included in online surveys, in-person interviews and/or virtual meetings.
The WDGC Executive Summary can be downloaded by clicking here. The workforce study press release can be found here.
The key takeaways from the study include:
1. Overall, labor supply is extremely tight in the region.
Much like the U.S. as a whole, the Savannah region is experiencing record low unemployment and is struggling to fill job vacancies.
The region has about 700,000 people and is growing quickly, which means potential workforce in the future.
The majority of population growth is expected to be in the four-county Savannah JDA area. Population growth is projected to be 23,750.
Imported labor (commuting outside the four-county Savannah JDA) is very high in certain job groups. More than 10% of workers are from outside the area.
Employment focus in most sectors are on hourly, entry-level roles.
Most firms have reduced temporary staffing and are hiring directly to focus on engagement.
Local professional outlook is generally positive with some exceptions.
Supply outlook presents the greatest challenge. By 2025, industrial labor supply will fall short of meeting demand.
Starting in 2024, annual industrial demand will outpace professional jobs for the rest of the decade.
The shortfall is initially covered by the one-time existing supply of underemployed. By 2025, this resource is largely depleted.
2. Future demand will vary annually, but top needs will continue to be technical and production roles.
Entry hourly production wages are up with 20% growth in two years.
Turnover is most likely in first 90 days but also differs significantly based on wages, engagement and onboard efforts.
Turnover can cost upward of 60% of annual salary.
Employee retention and competitive pay have become increasingly important.
3. Competitive pay and enhancing employee retention have been increasingly important.
High-demand positions are primarily found in logistics, manufacturing, maintenance roles.
Job needs anticipated to be a ramp-up over a nine-year period but peak years for hiring will be in 2024 and 2025.
4. Workforce development initiatives must work to draw more high school graduates into industries including manufacturing.
84% of new hires have no more than a high school diploma, highlighting the emphasis on comprehensive training.
There are many educational institutions and pathway programs to support local workforce needs. Partnerships are vital to ensure valuable industry certification and skills.
High school and technical college graduates are key to solving industrial worker gap. Without access to industry for career exploration, students likely do not know these opportunities exist.
5. Available labor from annual military departures is underutilized.
A key source of talent in the Savannah region is military separations from regional installations: – More than 3,500 annual separations from Ft. Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield – Most have transferable skill sets to related industries – Nearly 75% prefer local employment – Military spouse employment opportunities
Typically, higher wages and target outreach are needed to capture this pool.
6. The Savannah region has a number of workforce strengths and several challenges.
Strengths: – Port of Savannah is a major driver behind a lot of activity. – Incentives also a key driver behind location decisions. – The Savannah region has appeal to transferees due to quality of life. – Growing technology-based jobs in region. – Economic development efforts have been successful.
Challenges: – Initiatives will need to attract high school graduates to trades. – High wage inflation, tight labor supply. – Absence of childcare staff due to low wages and COVID. Most childcare facilities are operating at 50% staffing levels. – Limited affordable housing for growing entry-level workforce. – Available buildable land for housing becoming an issue in Savannah region. – Lack of regional public transportation options.
7. Regional employers must take a more active role in addressing workforce challenges.
Alternative labor sources
Workforce Development Plan
While the Savannah region’s labor market is much like the U.S. as a whole, the Savannah region is proactively addressing the key takeaways outlined.
Partnership is key. Strong leadership and direction needed from single local coordinating entity. Must have excellent employer and investor connections and fundraising capabilities.
Collaborative regional partnership should be created to include economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, workforce development and employment services, regional employers, educators, military, transportation stakeholders, nonprofits, county/municipal leaders and others.
A long-term workforce development strategy must be integrated directly into economic development and coordinated with infrastructure development.
Coordination between regional partnership, job seekers and students preparing for the job market.
Build upon existing workforce infrastructure and create new programs and initiatives for those already located in the region.
Principal coordinator to oversee workforce development plan design, implementation and management. – Oversee the development and operation of a Coastal Employers’ Forum. – Facilitate communications between task forces and Coastal Employers’ Forum.
Coastal Employers’ Forum to facilitate member messaging for HR guidelines relative to region’s HR best practices for recruiting and retaining employees, address childcare as well as establish programs and initiatives that improve labor supply.
Workforce Development Plan Task Forces
Military Resources – Provide annual listings and guidance on all area organizations serving military discharge transition and/or placement to members of Employers’ Forum and separating military personnel. – Link military discharges from U.S. bases to a Savannah job market applicant database.
Underrepresented Workforce Pipeline – Develop channels of communication regarding training and job placement services for marginalized workforce.
Housing – Imperative for this to be a regional collaborative effort to develop and execute action plan. – Adoption of down payment assistance programs. – Adoption of city/county housing redevelopment programs. – Procurement of financial assistance programs.
Education Resources – Build/expand upon the exiting Career Pathway and Career Academy programs. – Develop channels of direct interaction between Forum employers, faculty and students/parents to encourage career choices within industries. – Establish corporate foundations focused on STEM/STEAM education in public schools. – Adopt Xcel strategies mentoring system on a broader scale. – Encourage development of internships through interaction between Employers’ Forum members.
Transportation – Imperative for this to be a regional collaborative effort to develop and execute action plan. – Complete studies relative to micro transit zones. – Ongoing development of transportation plan that addresses commuter express/van pool routes to employer clusters. – Address transportation needs for students traveling between school/home and internship workplace sites.
Regional marketing campaign to attract new talent to the region – Develop talent attraction brand campaign. – Develop website with direct link to job opportunities. – Direct marketing to students. – Develop social media, photography, video and more. – Develop marketing toolkit for employers to ensure they know assets available to them, key messaging.
This page will be updated frequently on implementation of the workforce development plan. Additional information will be released in January.