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HELENA (AP) — A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows that Montana is on the verge of a crisis in finding qualified workers, the president of the Montana chamber said.

More than half of the 129 Montana employers who were surveyed said qualified applicants for jobs are either hard to find (42.1 percent) or very hard to find (9.5 percent). Similar numbers were reported nationally among the survey's 3,700 respondents.

Shortage of workers "The responses confirm our impressions regarding work force problems in Montana," Montana Chamber president Webb Brown said. "The projected work force shortage is already here. Although Montana business is doing very well in adding jobs and wages, we could be in trouble in very short order."

The study was conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Workforce Preparation.

Rising unemployment rates nationally have missed Montana. Montana's unemployment rate in March dipped to 5.1 percent, the lowest for the month in at least 33 years. The national unemployment rate in April was 6 percent.

The study also showed that Montana lags behind the rest of the country in work force training. The study found that one-quarter of Montana employers haven't trained their employees at all in the past 12 months, far above the national figure of 7 percent of companies that provide no training.

Brown said Montana's employers trail their counterparts in the rest of the country in use of the state's public work force-development system, a network that includes the Workforce Investment Board, the Job Service, the Montana Job Training Partnership and the Department of Labor and Industry.

Social welfare "Unlike some other states, Montana considers that system to be more social welfare than economic development," Brown said.

When asked how they viewed the purpose of the state's work force development system, 45.5 percent of Montana's employers called the system social welfare, while only 15.2 percent said economic development. Nationally the programs were viewed as much more business-friendly, with 30.9 percent saying social welfare and 39.6 saying economic development.

Brown said it's crucial that businesses take advantage of public jobs programs to find and train qualified workers.

"We need to get businesses better aware of what the public system has to offer and get them to use it more," he said.

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