Good Workers Hard to Find Despite Joblessness

Jobless Numbers Hide Skills Shortage

Robert Sturm, owner of G.T. Motorcars in Gainesville, advertised for a body shop worker offering $1,000 a week in potential earnings. Five men responded, none of them qualified.

Sturm is not alone. Hundreds of area jobs are hard to fill, although Alachua County’s unemployment rate is more than 8 percent and there are 10 times as many people looking for work as there are jobs listed with FloridaWorks, the organization that helps people find jobs on behalf of the state.

The skill gap is a big reason, despite a bevy of programs from technical training in high schools to the University of Florida’s postdoctoral programs.

In Sturm’s field, applicants who had vocational training have never worked out over the past 25 years. “They were slower than slugs,” Sturm says.

Equally important to the shortage of skilled workers is the decline of professionalism—a work ethic and a sense of teamwork, frustrated employers say.

“We need everyone to be a team player all the way through,” Sturm says. “The wash guy is the last one to see if the pinstripes are straight. Even guys who have years of experience generally don’t have what we need.”

The work ethic isn’t what it used to be, says Kathryn Thrasher of Remedy Intelligent Staffing.

“For a while, I thought the problem was that a lot of young people were raised in front of the computer, and they don’t have social skills,” she says. “Over the past year, I’ve noticed that the problem goes beyond young people.”

The most reliable workers Thrasher places in jobs are older people, she says. “They had planned to retired by now, but things didn’t work out like they had hoped. They’re willing to do anything they can for minimum wage. If they get more, they’re happy.”

Employers often make mistakes because of their preconceptions, Thrasher says.

One faulty view is that people who appear to be overqualified won’t be good hires. “I tell the companies that the people I send them just want a job,” she says. “They want to go to work.”

Another erroneous belief is that a bad credit history should disqualify a worker. “Plenty of people who are fine workers have run into credit problems because of today’s economy,” Thrasher says.

Shands Covers Full Spectrum

Shands Healthcare’s jobs range from entry level ones to highly technical ones, and its success in hiring ranges widely too.

“It is not uncommon for us to receive up to 200 applicants for each entry level position, such as in housekeeping and dietary,” says Gayla Beach, director of employment and recruitment. “We have a much easier time filling these positions.”

Shands Covers Full Spectrum

Shands Healthcare’s jobs range from entry level ones to highly technical ones, and its success in hiring ranges widely too.

“It is not uncommon for us to receive up to 200 applicants for each entry level position, such as in housekeeping and dietary,” says Gayla Beach, director of employment and recruitment. “We have a much easier time filling these positions.”

Finding enough qualified applicants in most medical fields is tough, Beach says. These jobs include positions such as physical therapists, speech therapists and registered nurses. Shands doesn’t hire physicians; all the physicians there work for the University of Florida College of Medicine.

“An abundance of new nursing grads is available, but we’re generally looking for experienced nurses because we need highly qualified nurses,” due to the critical needs of patients, Beach says.

Shands used to fill many of its medical and professional positions with workers from around the country. “It’s harder to attract these people, mainly because they can’t sell their homes where they’re living,” Beach says.

“Although we pay competitive salaries, generous benefits and tuition reimbursement and sometimes help with relocation, the perks often don’t outweigh the hardship of moving.”

The tight economy has its benefits. “We have very little turnover in positions in the areas of finance, accounting, human resources and marketing,” Beach says.

FloridaWorks Responding to Needs

FloridaWorks provides job training and other services for throughout the Alachua/Bradford region through a contract with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

When unemployment was running between 2 and 3 percent, the agency had approximately an equal number of registered job applicants as jobs—with three to four hundred of each.

That balance no longer holds. Today, FloridaWorks has 1,049 jobs listed, and its applicant pool has recentlybeen as high as 13,000, Executive Director Angela Pate says.

“Many applicants don’t match the skills that are most needed,” she says.

Not surprising, demand for nurses and occupational therapists exceeds supply, but what you might not expect is that truck drivers are in short supply. Pate attributes the trucker shortage to the demands of the job, increased licensing and training standards and the uncertainty of pay for those who work as owner-operators.

FloridaWorks is helping both employers and job applicants.

For employers, its Business Services Division can assist not only in posting jobs but also in screening applicants. “Many people don’t realize how much we have to offer,” Pate says.

The organization’s services for people who are looking for work or who want a better job include training in skills needed for specific jobs and how to themselves well, in terms of appearance, etiquette and resumes.

FloridaWorks collaborated with the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing on the Startup Quest program. The program provided training on entrepreneurial skills over eight weeks for 83 unemployed people.

Mentors who have been successful helped the participants realize hidden skills they didn’t realize they had, Pate says.

Although the focus was on setting up their own companies, 37 of the participants have landed jobs, and 17 have become employed in their own startups. “Startup Quest helped them regain their confidence,” Pate says. “The biggest challenge with helping unemployed people is changing their mindset.”

Santa Fe Flexible in Training

Santa Fe College’s Continuing Education Division can provide whatever training an organization needs, but many companies don’t know about its services, says Lisa Gagne, the coordinator of continuing education and corporate training. “We’re the best kept secret in town,” she says.

Much of the training is in general business areas, such as accounting, grant writing, publicity and software.

“Many companies that hire from within use us to train new managers, Gagne says. “It’s important to help people learn how to delegate and reprimand, if necessary, people they used to go to lunch with.”

Social media training has also become popular at Santa Fe, Gagne says.

Santa Fe is developing customer service training programs with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Customer service is a foundation for doing business,” Gagne says. “We haven’t offered many customer service programs in recent years, but companies are asking for it more and more.”

The State of Florida funds training programs designed to attract new companies to town or keep jobs here with existing firms through what’s called the Quick Response Training.

Nationwide Insurance is using a QRT grant to train claims adjusters that it needs because the Gainesville office has become a regional claims center.

Santa Fe also is helping Gainesville Regional Transit upgrade the skills of its welders.

Unemployment Benefits Can Backfire

During the downturn in the economy, many workers qualify for 99 weeks of unemployment compensation.

“That’s a long time,” says Kathryn Thrasher of Remedy Intelligent Staffing.

“A lot of people just go through the motions.”

In July, a new state law requiring people on unemployment compensation to document their job hunting. That’s created extra work for large employers and is becoming a burden for them,” Angela Pate of Florida Works says.

Shortage Holds Back Companies

In August, Herb Jones started looking for a project manager for his company Online Potential, a Gainesville company that helps businesses increase online referrals.

He posted the job with FloridaWorks and Craigslist and told employment agencies about it.

Response was minimal, and Jones couldn’t find anyone in the area who had the experience he needed.

He finally filled the job with a candidate from Washington, D.C., with didn’t have the computer programming skills he hoped for. “This young man had good character and a good personality,” Jones says. “I hired him because I could teach him the technical skills, but you can’t teach character.”

Life After Graduation Begins Before Graduation

by Cristina Paneque

Due to hard economic times, students are preparing for life after graduation while still in school—some earlier than others. And many are listening to the old adage that they should stay in school as long as possible and pursue graduate school because finding a job—even for the highly educated—isn’t as easy as it once might have been.

It’s all about preparation, according to Melissa Travaglia, UF sophomore and marketing major. She had her first internship the summer after her freshman year in Brussels, Belgium, while on a study abroad program. She is continuing to network and use the resources available to her to ensure she has many job possibilities once she graduates.

According to Travaglia, employers have expressed interest in her because she has begun job hunting at a young age. Networking early and having one’s resume out could prove beneficial in the future.

However, not all students are looking to jump into a job.

Senior Nia Phillips, majoring in telecommunication, hopes to attend film school after graduation.

“As a student from the journalism school, I’d be settling to go with retail and marketing when I’ve worked my butt off to be a film maker,” she said.

She has had many job prospects, but does not want to have a degree in one field and work in another. In her opinion, getting a job is not the difficult part but it is hard to find a job she is interested in. She has had several internships in her field during her undergraduate years, and she hopes to find a job where she can use her creativity to its fullest potential.

Many other students share Phillips’ desire to find a job that tailors to their desires. Senior Hoang Le is graduating in December and is looking for a “good job, not just any job.”

He is studying computer engineering and hopes to work for a few years to gain experience and then return to school. He believes it is important, when preparing for interviews, to tailor his experiences to the type the company wants and to do research on the potential employers.

Jennifer Ely, senior majoring in Middle Eastern language and culture, recognizes how difficult finding a job can seem. “Unless one is exceedingly proficient in their field they will not find a job,” she said.

She was pleased to find more opportunities than she expected through campus resources. She describes the task as daunting and is applying to graduate schools as well as looking for jobs and internships.

Third year Andrew Orso, industrial and systems engineering major, emphasized another aspect of his resume that could help students with networking and job hunting. Being involved in organizations on campus has helped him form connections as well as gain professional experience. Holding leadership positions in campus organizations is especially beneficial, he said.

His advice is to highlight aspects of one’s resume to focus on what the company is looking for. This proves that the student has researched the company and that the student has a desire to work with the company.

Whatever strategy they use, many UF students are searching for jobs earlier to prepare themselves for life beyond the classroom.

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