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Wanted: people to fill jobs

Despite 7.7 percent unemployment in Jackson County, employers often have a hard time finding workers

The economic realities seem a little unreal to Mary Kay Fitzgerald.

The human resources manager has navigated a series of business cycles during her 20 years at Fabricated Glass in Talent, but rarely has she seen help-wanted ads virtually ignored.

I'm not even getting people to apply, says Fitzgerald, who has 10 openings at a company that employs about 100. It's been kind of shocking, I even had to double-check the (classified) ads to see if it was in there. Usually, when we run an ad, by Monday morning we've got people filling out applications.

She knows there's often a shortage of truck drivers with commercial licenses, but the lack of response for other openings has been even more unsettling.

Fitzgerald isn't alone in her inability to fill openings. Even though the Oregon Employment Department pegs Jackson County's most recent unemployment figure at 7.7 percent, jobs in many sectors have gone begging.

— It seems as if we've flipped from an employer market place to an employee market, says Colleen Landis at Personnel Source in Medford. Now, there's so much work and not enough people to fill the positions, so the employees seem to be the ones that are choosy.

Her premise is supported by help-wanted ads, the numbers of which have increased dramatically in the past year. In March there were 5,140 employment ads in this newspaper, nearly 40 percent more than the 3,672 ads in March 2003. April's 5,230 help-wanted ads were 35 percent ahead of April 2003.

Good times or bad, there generally are going to be positions left unfilled, says Brenda Turner, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department in Salem.

All across the board, things are starting to recover, Turner says But during the recession some people may have changed their mind about what to do or not to do. Some people have moved on to other types of work; others don't have the skills for the jobs where they are located.

Reasons why jobs go unfilled range from mandatory drug testing to expertise, and vary from one firm to the next. But Landis thinks the economic impact of taking a job carries weight as well.

Pay is the No. — issue and No. 2 is transportation, she says. They're wanting &

36;9-plus an hour and a lot of the options are &

36;7.50 or &

36;8.50. We have a lot of students come through, and &

36;7.25 is not much incentive and with rising gas prices, people who come in say 'I can't pay for my gas' at that wage.

Gas prices are only part of the transportation formula.

A lot of the positions we have are in White City, Landis says. They may have a vehicle, but not a driver's license or someone reliable to pick them up and drop them off if they work nights. That's always been a problem, but just a little more so these days.

Joyce Hayford, employment services supervisor at the Oregon Employment Department's Medford office, says expectations have risen to the point where some job-seekers have erected self-imposed barriers.

It kind of makes you wonder how serious they are about working any job, Hayford says. A lot of people don't think they should accept minimum wage, but anything is better than being unemployed.

Entry-level pay is just one of many factors in jobs going unclaimed.

We've had people look at the application and see that we require you pass a drug test and they'll walk right out the door, Fitzgerald says. That's a deterrent.

One potential Fabricated Glass applicant inquired about a driving job, requiring a commercial drivers license. When he discovered it meant driving early mornings and evening at times, he left.

(He) wanted a day job, she says.

Work schedule is a frequent issue in the manufacturing sector.

Within our industry, where mills operate seven days a week, there will be days off other than the traditional Saturday and Sunday, says Bob Smith, Boise Cascade's human resources manager for the Western Oregon area. It makes it more problematic for folks in the labor force to work those days and hours.

A relatively younger employee, without a family, may desire evenings and weekends for social activity, he says. Someone with kids in school may want to avoid swing-shift hours so they can be home with their family.

Those individuals would prefer to work graveyard shift after the kids are in bed, then sleep when their kids are at school, Smith says.

Another issue for Boise is that it no longer has a well-trained labor force to tap into. For many years, Boise attracted experienced mill-hands because it paid better than some of the competing mills that have since closed.

It requires that we do more training now, Smith says.

Employers such as Lithia Motors and Waterford at Three Fountains experience constant openings, partly because of internal promotions and partly because people move to other companies or leave the area.

Keeping Lithia's seven local dealerships staffed is a challenge because of the company's continual growth.

We have a hard time drawing people into sales because of the negative stigma of sales, says Amber Longiotti, one of Lithia's local personnel coordinators. Other than that, we have a hard time finding people experienced enough to be technicians or service advisers because they need experience in the dealership industry.

She says the company hires as many as 15 people a month for the local dealerships.

Senior care facilities hire many people with limited skills, but Helen Smith, Waterford's executive director, says there are opportunities for advancement when coupled with training and education.

A lot of people aren't willing to start at entry-level and that's too bad, Smith says. Some positions are difficult to fill and that has to do with qualifications.

Even jobs paying upwards of &

36;50,000 go wanting these days in some fields.

U.S. Bank Regional President Joe Danelson says several well-paid analyst and lending positions here have been open for many months. He says there is shortage of commercial lenders, because many college graduates in the past decade didn't see opportunity for advancement in the banking industry.

They would see commercial staffs where the people were 10, 15 or 20 years from retirement and be discouraged by that, Danelson says. There's been quite a bit of stability in that type of position for some time in this industry and there aren't a lot of people that have lost their jobs.

.

Aelria and Frederick Trahan search through job openings in the Medford office of the Oregon Employment Department, where searches can also be conducted online. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven