The jobs landscape is changing.
Plenty of policy makers are pontificating about the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate. But ask any of a number of area business owners what their main issue is and they’ll say it’s a shortage of skilled workers, particularly in high-profile white-collar sectors.
It’s no longer so simple to staff out a plant with people who can simply put a rivet in steel. Even blue-collar work is becoming more specialized and more technical.
For two centuries after the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing work was a steady source of employment. American desire to consume fueled the greatest output of production in the world.
Now, as our economy becomes increasingly technology-based, the same approaches to education and training may not cut it anymore.
We talked to experts across several sectors and asked them the same thing: What is the job landscape like in your area and how could workers adapt to companies needs? Here’s what we found:
Over the past few years, as Nashville’s technology community has become increasingly robust, the city’s pool of technology talent has failed to keep pace. This is nothing new, but it does shed light on what one staffing executive was quick to point out: the dual job market.
“There’s the general job market with relatively high unemployment rates, and then there’s the job market for specialists with in-demand skills, which tells a different story,” said Brandon Rackley, a Nashville-based member of international staffing firm and Menlo Calif.-headquartered Robert Half International. “In many cases, we are seeing a shortage of skilled professionals. The skills that companies are looking for aren’t easy to find. Professionals who do have hard-to-find skills may have their pick of job offers.”
Rackley noted that the nation’s unemployment rate remains high.
“However, when you look at the quarterly position-specific employment figures put out by the BLS [the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics], the numbers look more like this: hardware engineers: 1.9 percent; database administrators: 2.4 percent; software developers, applications and systems software: 3.3 percent; network and computer systems administrators: 4.7 percent; and Web developers: 5.6 percent
“So what types of skills are in demand? Our Q4 IT Hiring Index found that IT security and networking professionals are in greatest demand right now. As firms continue to invest in technology, they require skilled IT security professionals to ensure their networks and data are secure. There also is a growing demand for network administrators who can help firms maximize their efficiency with new and existing technologies.
“Developers also are highly sought. There is a strong demand for professionals with .NET, C# and Java. Additionally, as companies move toward collaborative software solutions we’re seeing an incredible increase in demand for SharePoint developers. As companies implement new technologies, customer- and end-user facing roles also remain critical. We’re seeing demand from our clients for help desk and desktop support people.”
Nashville has certainly seen this trend at play. The Nashville Technology Council continues to put out its quarterly job-opening figures, and while that number fell by 20 percent from the second to third quarter of 2011, there remain 929 vacant technology jobs in the Middle Tennessee area.
Rackley said that Robert Half’s hiring index has shown that the employees most highly sought after right now include those in IT security, networking and development, among others.
“In many cases, we are seeing a shortage of skilled professionals,” he said. “The skills that companies are looking for aren’t easy to find. Professionals who do have hard-to-find skills may have their pick of job offers.”
Technology sector denizens continue to try to fill the gap, but as the Technology Council initiative says: “Nashville is hiring.”
Marla Rye, the president of employee development and placement agency Workforce Essentials, says now, smaller manufacturers are turning to staffing agencies to fill their labor needs.
“I don’t know if that’s because of the ebb and flow of the economy, but that’s the facts of life. In this economy, staffing agencies are doing better. . . . They may be a trend that individual companies are looking for,” she said.
But workers seeking stable, long-term work have reason for hope, too.
Volkswagen coming online in Chattanooga and the return of GM to the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill creates a ripple effect up and down Interstates 24 and 65.
“As a matter of fact there are Tier I and Tier II auto production companies here in Middle Tennessee that will get work,” she said, noting the German automaker has gone as far afield as Springfield for some of its supply work.
Unemployment on the bad side of 9 percent means there are plenty of workers available — unlike the first influx of auto-making which required companies to transfer large numbers of workers from the Rust Belt.
But to get these new and returning jobs will require a change on the part of the hopeful workers.
“We’ve got workers and there are workers available that have relevant skill sets, (but) with the growing use of technology, the skill sets need to be upgraded. When they are laid off they can use the time to get trained up so they are more prepared,” she said.
Already, Hemlock Semiconductor has completed its first round of hiring and sent those potential workers
to Michigan for training before they start work in the Montgomery County plant.
The jobs are coming back to the factories and the workers are here — they just have to be ready to change.
Remember back when there was a drastic nursing shortage around the world? Well, there still is one. And though the shortage ebbed somewhat after the economic downturn, it may be growing again.
Mark Dixon of USr Healthcare, which works with HCA’s TriStar network, told The City Paper that his firm is seeing the greatest demand for licensed health care positions such as registered nurses.
“The licensed medical staff, particularly in hospitals, has seen increased openings with the re-emergence of the worldwide medical staff, but Nashville is in a unique place because there is a solid availability of talent to service the market,” Dixon said.
During the past four years, many formerly retired nurses have returned to work as family members struggled to find or hold jobs in other fields, but that population is aging. Nashville benefits because of its position as a health care epicenter, but the city won’t be totally immune.
As Dixon put it: “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a lot of mid- to large-sized cities around the country.”
Health Care IT
According to Craig Lewis, the president and owner of Nashville Global Partners, a locally based information technology recruiting firm, the talent search — and talent pool — in Nashville isn’t as bleak as folks might think.
Lewis’ firm engages local and regional client companies to search for IT positions ranging from programmers to systems administrators to software developers. His Nashville clients want to find that talent locally. And for at least the past six months, that objective has been met.
“I’d say 70 percent of the local IT positions we’ve filled during that time were filled by folks already here,” Lewis said. “There is a significant pool of IT talent in Nashville.”
Lewis noted an interesting reality to filling health care IT positions locally. During tough economic times, the grass becomes less green for folks who are looking for a better opportunity from just over the fence. So the “ship jumpers,” who are usually prone to move, don’t.
In more pleasant economic circumstances, those same folks are more inclined to jump.
Overall, Lewis feels the jobs situation locally is a mixed bag, with some industries in need of skilled labor and others in strong shape. It varies from sector to sector.
That notion reflects the Nashville aura of economic insulation both in good times and bad. It’s long been said that in good times, the city doesn’t quite rise as high as everyone else and in bad times, it doesn’t sink near as low.
“Our clients aren’t opposed to moving folks in from the region but they’d prefer to find the talent right here,” Lewis said.
City Paper business staff Geert de Lombaerde, Walker Duncan, J.R. Lind and Philip Nannie contributed to this report.