Help Wanted: Michigan Employers Seek Workers in all Fields

To sense the job market in metro Lansing, stroll the sidewalks at Frandor Mall; Home Goods is advertising for workers. So are Tuesday Morning, Jo Ann Fabrics, T.J. Maxx (which hasn’t opened yet), Petco and Party City.

Even businesses that aren’t promoting job openings are taking applications.

“Basically we are looking for maintenance and front desk people,” said Jo Bostwick, manager at Fitness U.S. The combination health club, spa and boot camp also seeks personal trainers, who require certification and are in high-demand.

“It’s hard to keep people,” said Bostwick, whose challenge filling service industry positions reflects a regional economy that is rapidly approaching full employment.

In retailing and other service industries, many available jobs are part time, with awkward schedules and low pay. The Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s annual survey of median wages reported that the hourly pay for retail sales was $9.50 an hour with cashiers earning $9.20. The pay for fast food cooks was $9.07 an hour and even less for food preparation and service workers, at $8.96 an hour.

But this is only a slice of a job market that continues to tighten.

“The ability to find talent seems to be the number one issue facing the business community. As the unemployment rate continues to come down, the skilled trades jobs are more and more difficult to find,” said Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. He cited manufacturing, tech industries — engineers and programmers, most notably — and healthcare as sectors struggling to fill available positions. It’s the downside of good news.

“We went around the board room and did an update. Almost 100 percent of the people at the table talked about how much their business has grown in the past year,” Daman said.

The rapidly improving economy played prominently in the latest Michigan State University State of the State Survey, which has monitored the public mood since 1994.

“The number one issue is jobs. People pay more attention to it than any other issue. Michigan’s unemployment is down to the

national level, and that hasn’t been true for a long time,” said MSU economics professor Charles Ballard, who directs the project.

The survey captured growing optimism about mid-Michigan’s future. “Every time we do the survey — that’s three times a year — we ask people about their current finances. 60 percent said their situation is good or excellent, the highest since the turn of the century, the highest we’ve seen in a long time,” Ballard said. “It has real effects; when people are more confident, they are more likely to undertake investment opportunities. Maybe they start a new business. They will be likely to make better economic decisions when they are not scared.”

The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Lansing-East Lansing area, citing preliminary July numbers, pegs the unemployment rate at 5.1 percent. For perspective, in July 2009 as the recession deepened, the unemployment rate was 12.8 percent, the worst in decades. Altogether, the metro area has a civilian labor force of 239,000, with 226,903 employed and 12,100 classified as unemployed. A year ago the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, had a workforce of 240,202, with 221,923 employed and 18,279 people classified as unemployed.

“Our region really considers full employment at 5.5 percent. And certainly we are faring better than other parts of the state,” said Edythe Hatter-Williams, chief executive officer at Capital Area Michigan Works! “We still have people who are unemployed. Many are frustrated and have stopped looking. Our challenge is now to engage them and let them know that there are jobs now.”

Its job placement record supports the claim that there is work available. For the 12-month period ended June 30, 2015, Capital Area Michigan Works! filled 5,583 jobs, exceeding its goal of 5,000.
In 2015, construction, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing have provided particularly strong job growth in the region, according to the BLS. Year-over-year, employers added 600 construction jobs, 1,000 manufacturing jobs and 1,300 jobs in the leisure and hospitality segment, which includes food services, bars and hotels.

Online job sites like Indeed.com, Monster.com, Craigslist.com and Careerbuilder.com illustrate a dynamic and diverse job market in the Lansing area. CareerBuilder lists more than 700 jobs posted within the last 30 days by companies as diverse as Jackson National Life, Liberty Tax Service, the Army National Guard and Grand Ledge Ford.

Indeed’s listing claims more than 4,300 jobs: Plant managers at $83,000; customer service representatives at $45,000; warehouse workers at $23,000; and a director of business marketing & communications in Lansing at $80,000.

Then there are welders.

Both Daman and Hatter-Williams cited this trade as an example of an important skill in short supply.

“What we are hearing from the manufacturing community is their inability to find welders. You could almost walk in today and they would put you to work right away,” Daman said. In response to this skill shortage, Michigan Works! has established special training programs to build expertise for those with some welding experience and to train complete novices, Hatter-Williams said.

The BLS in its latest salary analysis found that the mean wage for welders in the Lansing-East Lansing region was $36,410, slightly below the state mean of $36,810. But with the right skills and the right employer, pay is higher; Career.com advertises positions paying $50,000 a year. Tellingly, among the jobsite listings for welders are solicitations to relocate. The welder shortage is nationwide.

“I will tell you that talent remains the number one issue for businesses and where they locate, expand and grow,” Daman said. “Certainly the lack of skilled labor has the potential to hinder our growth.”

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