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Posted: January 01, 2010

Work in Progress

2010 could bring uptick, but most companies are in no hurry to hire

Nora Caley

If the recession is over, can jobs be far behind? Many laid-off workers hope the news about the economy improving means work will follow.

Employers say they are at least thinking about adding staff in the new year, but many don't want to say how many they're hiring or how they're screening all those resumes. Human resource experts say some industries are indeed adding staff, but the unemployment rate won't improve quickly.

"The story for 2010 is that the overall monthly employment patterns appear to be returning to normal," says Gary Horvath, managing director of the business research division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He says the normal pattern is that employment falls to its lowest rate in the first quarter of the calendar year, then increases through the summer and into the fourth quarter, especially during the retail season.

That steady increase didn't happen in 2009. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Colorado lost 100,600 jobs from October 2008 to October 2009. But here's a sliver of good news: From September 2009 to October 2009, 1,000 jobs were added.

Horvath has more positive news. Although the recession touched most industries, government and health care remained mostly unscathed. He says if a federal healthcare bill passes, that will add jobs not only in clinical areas but in collections and IT.

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WHERE THE JOBS ARE

Chris Akers, a statistician in the Labor Market Information Office with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, says job growth in Colorado is flat. He agrees that health care and government are the bright spots. Citing October 2009 preliminary data, Akers says health care and social-assistance employment grew by 6,400 workers or 2.9 percent compared to October 2008. Employment in ambulatory health care grew by 3,000 workers (3.3 percent), nursing and residential care facilities added 1,200 jobs (3.2 percent), social assistance added 1,200 (3.1 percent) and hospitals added 1,000 (1.8 percent).

Educational services in private education grew by 700 jobs, or 2.3 percent, and government employment rose by 6,200 workers or 1.6 percent.

Darryl Hoogstrate, chief operating officer and co-founder of the technical recruiting firm The Innovar Group, says most of the activity he's seeing is in federal government contractors, health-care services, medical devices and renewable energy.

"We are also seeing a good amount of activity in services companies, especially in hiring of salespeople, who are preparing for an upturn in 2010," he says. "We are also beginning to hear about pent-up demand for IT employees, as hiring has been on hold for the past couple of years."

Karen Policastro, regional vice president of the staffing firm Robert Half International, says when hiring managers begin to hire again, they will look for workers in technology, sales and customer service. "We are not prepared to say the worst is behind us, but we have begun to see a little bit of an uptick."

Mark Danielson, president of Danielson Designs Ltd. in Trinidad, says the gift manufacturer recently hired a manager and hopes to hire people in IT, marketing and graphic design. In this economy, he says, a business has two options. "You can hunker down and try to spend as little as you can and just hope it passes, or you can say, ‘How are we going to grow and find new customers? How are we going to be the one that survives?'"

Even banks are hiring. Or at least one bank is. In November, JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced it plans to hire 1,200 mortgage officers nationwide in 2010. Chase recently opened its 123rd location in Colorado, creating job expectations.

"Based on expansion plans in branch, small business and mortgage businesses, we will be recruiting more than 75 new colleagues in Colorado," says Mary Jane H. Rogers, who handles media and government relations for the New York-based bank.

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Some companies aren't sharing their growth plans. "We don't have predictions on how many people we'll hire in 2010, though we're fortunate to be in an industry that overall is strong," says Robin Sadler, vice president of human resources for the HMO Kaiser Permanente Colorado. "In addition, our subscriber base is growing ahead of projection ... so there may be opportunities that come available."

Some have scaled back their plans to hire. Vestas, which said it planned to hire 2,500 people at its new wind turbine plants in Colorado in 2010, has stopped hiring in Colorado and has laid off workers in Europe. In its third quarter 2009 report, the Danish company indicated that "due to the credit crisis, the upgrading in the USA is not progressing as quickly as planned."

WHO WILL GET THE JOBS?

With the Colorado unemployment rate at 6.9 percent, employers can be picky. They know what types of workers they want, and they're not going to read all 300 resumes that arrive with each job post. "Companies are looking for people with very specific, potentially high-demand skill sets," Policastro says.

Hoogstrate says companies are being so selective they're extending the time it takes to fill a position. "The hire cycle time is higher now because of the wave of resumes that managers get and their willingness to wait for the perfect candidate who might come through their door," he says. He adds that the perfect candidate has experience, preferably with a competitor, and is flexible about compensation.

Some companies don't necessarily want people who worked for competitors. "We look for qualified applicants who have experience working with people," says Rogers, from Chase. "Experienced bankers and lenders are often, but not always, the right fit."

Other factors play into the hiring decisions. The Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management conducted a poll, "Interviewing Do's and Don'ts for Job Seekers." Fifty-four percent of hiring managers surveyed report they make their final decision to hire based on chemistry.

Jo Prabhu, founder and CEO of the Long Beach, Calif.-based recruiting firm International Services Group and a member of SHRM's Staffing Management Panel, says certain workers have an advantage in the interview process.

 "Who is the corporation going to hire? Seniors who come with a lot of baggage, need medical insurance and don't have computer skills? Laid-off workers who are used to a certain type of pay scale? Or young college grads who will accept less, have a trainable attitude and can be fired just as quickly because they are not loyal and might leave anyway?"

She says former high-paid executives have an especially difficult time getting hired.

"They don't have leverage in the job market anymore because their credibility is shot," she says. Many will start their own businesses or become contractors. "The employer-employee relationship is going to change. Companies are trying not to hire full-time people anymore. They're going to allocate this percent salaried, this percent contract, this percent outsourced on an as-needed basis."

Thin-film solar module manufacturer Abound Solar plans to hire about 40 temporary workers in the first quarter and hopes to turn many into full-time equivalent employees. The Loveland-based company is hiring workers in manufacturing and in specialized areas such as engineering. For the manufacturing workers, Abound works with the staffing agency Aerotek.

"As production ebbs and flows, we get into a rhythm and we understand more about what we need," says Dennis Stoltenberg, vice president of human resources for Abound. "That's instead of offering jobs and then laying people off."

At Danielson Designs, Mark Danielson says he's looking for people with certain skills who also want to move to Trinidad, about 120 miles from Colorado Springs. He has hired, and paid to relocate, people from San Diego and Dallas. "They have young families, and the thought of raising their families in a small town sounded like a great idea," he says. For people who aren't looking to move to the area, "It's a challenge."

He doesn't get many resumes for each job opening. That's different from the experience of other employers. Jenny Shedd, senior corporate recruiter for Rally Software in Boulder, says the company will be hiring, but doesn't know yet how many people.

"To help manage the increased flow of resumes, we have incorporated an applicant tracking system that allows us to ask several qualifying questions during the online resume submittal process," she says. "This helps us to verify who has the correct skills for the role before we review resumes."

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Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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