8/15/2012 - Asheville-area job market eases a bit
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE -- People willing to work with their heads and their hands or acquire the skills to do both probably have the best shot of getting hired in the local job market these days, experts say.
"It's the skilled trades that we are short on in this country," said Vernon Daughtery, dean of engineering and applied technology at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
Several programs that Daughtery oversees, including some that take as few as six or eight months to complete, regularly see a high demand for graduates. They require students to have technical knowledge and usually at least some willingness to get their hands dirty.
"A lot of our students actually find jobs when they're in school," he said.
With signs the economy is slowing rebounding, the job market in the Asheville area has shown encouraging trends, according to the most recent indicators. The Asheville metro area, comprising Buncombe, Madison, Haywood and Henderson counties, had seen nearly 22 straight months of job growth through May.
The unemployment rate for the metro area was 7.9 percent in June, the lowest it has been for that month since 2008.
Rick Elingburg, director of the Asheville office of the state Division of Employment Security, and others said they do see some strength in the local market.
"It could always be worse," said Elingburg. "We're seeing things from employers, hearing things from employers, that there are jobs out there."
"I think it is improving, not as rapidly as everybody hopes, but at any given time, there's hundreds of jobs out there," said Phil Monk, director of Mountain Area JobLink Career Center, a government job counseling and placement service.
Here is some of the job-seeking advice experts offered for people at different career stages:
o Recently, or not-so-recently, unemployed. People who can afford to take a few months to a couple of years to get retrained can find well-paid jobs at the other end of the process, experts said.
Others can probably find something to get by but should commit to improving their skills as well, they said.
Manufacturing has a bad reputation among some workers because of mass layoffs in traditional industries like furniture and textiles several years ago that left entire families out of work in one fell swoop.
And, Elingburg said, manufacturing jobs for people who graduate from high school with no particular skills have disappeared.
"The old days of just entry-level manufactu ring employment, that's kind of passed us by," he said.
But advanced manufacturing, in which workers apply more sophisticated skills like metalworking, is doing well, Elingburg said, as is warehousing.
"The manufacturing that we do in the area today is nothing like what people's parents and grandparents did. It's totally different industries," Daugherty said.
The modern factory "is much more automated and requires a pretty significant level of technical skills," he said.
There is high demand for students who go through Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College programs in machining, industrial systems technology, computer engineering technology, civil engineering technology and surveying technology, he said.
Skilled positions in health care often pay well but definitely require training, Monk said. He suggested programs in medical data entry, phlebotomy or for nurse's assistants.
People unwilling or unable to go back to school before they go back to work can find jobs in call centers, home improvement warehouses and retail stores, Elingburg said.
Many of those jobs will offer only part-time hours, he said. Workers should consider using the off hours to get trained for better paid jobs, Elingburg said.
o Out of college, out of work. Most recent college graduates will think it too soon to abandon the search for work in their field of study, Elingburg said, but many will need to have some income while waiting for the right position.
His advice: "Try to find the best opportunity you can and continue looking for a job in your career field."
Call center jobs demand some of the computer and communications skills that college grads have, he said, although the pay rates may be well below what graduates hope for.
Elingburg and Monk said positions in hospitality and retail are opening up now as current college and high school students go back to school.
o Still in high school. Experts' advice for this group was unanimous: Don't wait until graduation before thinking about what comes next.
Even students who are certain they are bound for a four-year college should be learning about their strengths and weaknesses and the fields where they would make the best fit, experts said.
Daugherty is a big proponent of students getting at least some exposure to different career fields while still in high school.
"At the very worst, they'll find out they don't want to do that" job and can reorient their education plans, he said.
Area public schools have vocational classes available for students considering a wide variety of careers, Daugherty said. He encouraged students to ask, "'Where do I see myself in five years?' and plan an education to get you there."
But he cautioned high school students and others not to chase whatever is the hot job trend of the moment.
Trends change, he said. "Don't come train for a job because you've heard it pays good or something like that."
Daugherty said that when people ask him for care er advice, "I always ask them the simple question, 'What is it you want to do?' ... That's the most important thing."