If you are a job seeker in the Rogue Valley, your chances have rarely been better, according to employment experts around the region. In virtually all sectors of the local economy, the number of available jobs is greater than the pool of qualified applicants.

“It is definitely a job seekers market,” says Nikki Jones, owner of Express Personnel Services in Medford.

“The job market right now is great,” agrees Brenda Edwards, regional manager of Personnel Source, Inc. “We’re hiring hand over fist, and employers are looking for people at all levels, from beginning production to management.”

Many factors are contributing to the tight labor market. New companies such as Amy’s Kitchen and Home Depot have hired a significant number of people. At the same time, existing businesses are beginning to ramp up after tightening the reins during the last economic downturn. Although business orders have been increasing in recent quarters, many employers have delayed hiring, perhaps waiting to be sure the recovery would hold. As a result, many employers are playing catch-up at a time when the labor market is tight.

“As far as the labor pool goes, it’s short,” says Angela Doss, branch manager of Cardinal Services, Inc., in Medford. “The opportunities are better out there because the valley is growing, but the labor pool is small. We’re all scrambling to find people from the same small labor pool. Some companies will use several staffing agencies and also advertise on their own, and they still have trouble finding qualified applicants.”

In the last quarter of 2006, the valley experienced a decline in industries linked to housing, including manufacturing, building materials, clerical jobs in the mortgage industry and related businesses, says Jones. “For all other areas outside of that sector, we have more jobs than applicants.”

Now that the outlook in housing is improving, the job market could get even tighter, Jones says.

Staffing agencies and human resource managers say they are finding a lack of qualified candidates in the valley for high-skill and management jobs. At the entry-level, they are finding a large percentage of people who can’t pass background checks or drug screens, who can’t show a consistent work history, or who do not present well.

Many companies are looking to recruit from outside the valley, yet local wages, especially compared to housing costs, are a hindrance.

“The wages in the valley are slowly starting to catch up, but there’s still a discrepancy,” says Doss. “We can find qualified women from Portland or California. The challenge is finding qualified people who will work for the wages in the valley. People moving in are astounded at the low wages.”

Brenda Edwards, from Personnel Source, Inc., agrees that local wages and costs are a factor. She cites recent statistics from the state showing that the median home price in the valley is now 11 times higher than the median annual income. In Portland, the median home price is just six times the median income.

“That makes our valley a very difficult place for a family to get started,” she says.
The good news is that for people looking to break into the market or move up from their current position, the landscape is bright with possibility.