Job One: Finding employment in the Upper Cumberland region
Thursday, Jun 30, 2011
Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
This has been the sounding board of politicians and citizens alike since the bottom fell out of the economy late in 2008.
Yet it seems little has been done as far as progress toward growing the job market. Unemployment still hovers at around 9 percent and some experts say the “real” rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 percent when you consider those who have stopped looking and those who are underemployed.
In the Upper Cumberland, the jobless rate has declined some since early 2009, however, the rate still remains high with 10 percent or higher unemployment not uncommon in many area counties. The latest statistics from the state indicate a 14 percent unemployment rate in Pickett County, making it the eighth highest rate in the state.
So what to do?
The Manpower angle
One of the biggest issues facing the workforce, according to Joe Bontrager, branch manager of Manpower in Cookeville, is a lack of training and reliability.
“The problem we are running into,” says Bontrager, “is we have a lot of entry level industrial positions we are having a hard time filling with reliable people.”
He also said there are some segments of the workforce which don’t have proper training, especially when it comes to technology.
“We have a lot of the older generation who don’t have computer skills,” he said. “Even in manufacturing, most of those positions require some kind of computer skills.”
Manpower is North America’s largest staffing company. Bontrager said sometimes the perception of what Manpower does is not the reality. In fact, just from the local office, Manpower employs more than 200 workers at various businesses in the area. In some cases, Manpower acts as the human resource department for employers while in other cases, they work with those departments in finding the right people for the right positions.
Many people probably don’t realize that Manpower also offers benefits such as paid vacations and insurance. In addition, Bontrager said many times, when someone is placed in a position with Manpower, it can lead to full-time employment with that business.
“It gets your foot in the door,” he said. “And if you are not working, it gets you working. It gets you a paycheck. Most of the people we deal with, if you go there and work hard and do your job, there’s going to be a position which opens up and you can transition to a full-time employee.”
Surprisingly, Bontrager said they have open positions right now and can’t find the right fit for persons to fill those positions.
“The problem we are seeing a little bit of is having a hard time getting people to fill positions we have,” he said. “We need reliable people, especially on the manufacturing side.”
On the other side of the ledger, Bontrager said they don’t “have a ton” of positions to fill, though there are some. And those positions can range from factory workers to management positions with local companies.
Bontrager said Manpower works with 20 to 25 local businesses in providing employees. Of those, 15 are long-term clients of Manpower. He also said a few years ago, they were working with some 400 employees, so that number has fallen.
“It is considerably better than we had last year,” said Bontrager of the current situation.
He also said a rise in temporary employment may be on the horizon.
“As for temporary help, we are getting ready to fill the hopper full,” said Bontrager. “We think we are going to use them.”
What’s needed, what’s not?
Another very interesting aspect of what Manpower does involves a nationwide survey which focuses on what jobs employers are finding hard to fill.
The top two positions have not changed since 2010. Skilled trades workers and sales representatives are still the most difficult positions to fill in America. But from there, the positions have changed significantly.
In the area of nursing, that was third on the list in 2010 but fell completely off the list in 2011. It’s likely more people have gone to school and are now in the workforce in the nursing field.
This year, engineers are third on the list as hardest jobs to fill with drivers fourth. Accounting and financial positions ranked as the fifth hardest to fill, which was not even on the list a year ago. The survey also indicated a need for IT positions as well as management and executives.
Ranking 10th on the list this year is machinists and machine operators, which could indicate a slight uptick in the manufacturing segment.
Bontrager said although this is a national survey, it also reflects on the Upper Cumberland where the same positions are needed and are more difficult to fill with qualified workers.
“We’re seeing a talent mismatch here in the Upper Cumberland area where local employers are having somewhat of a challenge filling positions such as buyers, quality managers, administrative positions and maintenance technicians,” he said.
One thing which has taken place over the past year, he said, is some employers have realized they have to up the ante some when it comes to finding quality people.
“We have a lot of clients who have raised their pay rates to get some of these people,” said Bontrager.
He’s also encouraged employers to consider quality people who can adapt to certain positions though that might not be their field of expertise.
“If we see someone who has a great skill set that doesn’t have exact experiences they are looking for, we encourage our customers to look at those people. Those are the people who work out well for the companies we deal with,” he said.
Bontrager also encouraged everyone to give Manpower a try, saying it’s nothing like his perception before taking the position three months ago.
“It’s a great staff and it’s great to go out there and help people,” he said.
Manpower, he said, wants “as many people to come in as possible. We have jobs out there we need to fill from the guy washing the floor to managerial positions. We need good people to come in to give options to our clients.”
He also said that Manpower provides training for people to give them the needed skills. When people come in, they do an initial assessment and if training is needed, it is provided by Manpower. They do all of the interviews and can act as a human resource department for companies.
You can find out more about Manpower at www.us.manpower.com.
A new state focus
Another aspect for job seekers is utilizing assets offered by the state.
In Crossville, the Tennessee Career Center has greatly expanded its service, according to James Perry, manager of the center.
“I think it’s one of the best facilities in the state,” said Perry. “The last two years have been difficult for the unemployed in Cumberland County and quite frankly there are a lot of people who could use our services who have no idea we exist, so we’re doing what we can to get the word out.”
In years past, Perry said the office was known more for unemployment insurance benefits and though they still deal with that service, the focus has shifted on reemployment and retraining. He said most of the unemployment claims and questions are handled online or via telephone.
Crossville is one of 15 “comprehensive career centers” in the state, meaning it has the full range of services and equipment including job service, unemployment, adult education, computer resource rooms, veterans services, vocational rehabilitation, workshops and is a training partner with the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency (ETHRA).
Here are brief outlines of some of the services provided by the Tennessee Career Center in Crossville:
• Job placement service - Statewide jobs listings can be found online at https://ecmats.tn.gov/eCMATS, but individuals must register with the Tennessee Career Center to be referred to a position.
• Employer services - Perry says employers are “usually surprised” to find that free services are available to them at the state’s career centers. Employers can submit job orders for which applicants are screened according to the qualifications of the job. The career center in Crossville has the space available for interviewing and training employees. He said local employers like CoLinx and Flowers Bakery use the center for hiring.
• Computer resource room - Finding a job in today’s climate requires the use of a computer. Job listings are online and in many cases, applying for a job is done through an employer’s Web site. As Perry says, being unemployed can be a “catch 22” for people because they need a job to earn money but it costs money to have a computer, Internet connection, printer and fax. The Crossville Career Center has 27 computers as well as copiers and fax machines available for clients at no charge.
• Workshops - Group and one-on-one counseling is available for job seekers. They can learn skills like resume writing, sharpening interview skills and finding out the best places to find job listings.
• Get a GED - Adult education services are also available at the career center. Perry says getting a GED is “one of the best things you can do” to improve your chances of finding employment. The career centers offers the basics of reading, writing and math skills, also at no cost.
• ETHRA - The East Tennessee Human Resources Agency provides workforce investment activities through the Tennessee Career Center system that increases the employment, retention and earnings of customers and increases occupational skill attainment. ETHRA services also include formal training, job search skill development, case management, work experiences, on-the-job training and more.
• Unemployment services - While the easiest methods to file for unemployment are by phone and online, the career center conducts “mass claims sessions” where people can file in person if they were laid off because of lack of work and they have a separation notice from their employer. The center also provides computers to file claims online and phones are available for people needing to save on their cell phone bills.
The career center is located at 60 Ridley Street next to the new Union Planters Bank building. You can call 931-484-7546 for more information.
The national outlook
Another aspect of the Manpower survey looked at the national employment outlook in America. In doing the survey, Manpower officials interviewed more than 18,000 employers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The central focus of the survey was to assess if employers were anticipating hiring new workers by the end of September of this year.
The survey found 20 percent expected to add to their workforce, 8 percent expected a decline and the rest — which was the large majority — expected no change.
The survey also broke down by categories the expected hiring outlook.
The industry that reported the highest anticipated hiring rate was in leisure and hospitality. Of those surveyed, 33 percent said they anticipated increasing employees, 6 percent forecast a decrease and 60 percent saw no change, for a net increase of 27 percent in the outlook.
In fact, almost all sectors surveyed anticipated a net increase in hiring for the remainder of this year. That included wholesale and retail trades at 20 percent, construction at 11 percent, professional services at 19 percent and transportation at 14 percent.
When broken down by region, the Northeast showed the strongest outlook at 10 percent. In the other four regions — Midwest, South and West — employers said their outlook for hiring remained relatively the same. All three indicate moves in a positive direction, with the South and Midwest indicating an increase of 9 percent and 8 percent in the West.In the South, it was reported that industry and leisure had the highest outlook at 20 percent while education and health services was the lowest at 4 percent. All areas, however, did indicate slight increases in employment were anticipated.