Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A less frantic picture at this year's job fair

I don't think there's a better way to take the temperature of the local economy than to attend a job fair like the one held this morning as part of the Mayor's Business Day.

The last one I went to, in 2010, there was an air of desperation at odds with the bankers and business people onstage at the Civic Auditorium that morning, all talking about how the recession was over. It wasn't, as we all found out. People told me about being out of work for months, about single job openings receiving more than 300 applications.

Whether it was the time of day -- morning rather than late afternoon -- or the actual economy, this year's job fair was comparatively laid back. The Idaho Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area's unemployment rate for February was 6.5 percent, way below the state and national averages. Idaho has posted seven straight months of declining unemployment.

Will Jenson
Rob Smith
Jessica Clapp
"You can have a decrease because people have stopped looking for work, but in our case it's because people have been finding work and the labor market has been growing," said Will Jenson, regional economist in the Idaho Department of Labor's Idaho Falls office.

While the unemployment rate is the same as it was in February 2011, the number of job postings online and in the paper was up 24 percent in 2011 over 2010. That has shown no sign of collapse in the new year.

Jenson said the housing market is still down, but the decline in construction jobs has slowed. The segment of the economy that has been up sharply has been leisure and hospitality, which he feels indicates an increase in consumer confidence.

If eastern Idaho's unemployment doesn't drop as far as other parts of the country, it will only be because it hasn't had as far to decline. Jenson said he expects the local unemployment figure to be between 5.5 and 6 percent in the second half of this year. Beyond that, a lot will depend on the federal budget. Between Pocatello and Rexburg, 20 to 25 percent of the jobs are linked to the Idaho National Laboratory.

If you can see it coming, it's not as bad, he said. "When people have a timeline, they have time to plan. It creates a softer landing for them. We've been through it before and we'll go through it again in the future. It's nothing new to us."

Elsewhere at the job fair, here's what people had to say:

Fred Rhoads of Waddell & Reed said he would be happy if could find one good entrepreneurial person for his team. In early December, Waddell & Reed moved to expanded offices in the Taylor Crossing on the River development. "People are starting to feel more optimistic. I think (they) are realizing they need to do something with their investment dollars."

Representing Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, JoAnn Cummings pointed to three pages of positions that the Idaho Falls hospital has open. "At the hospital, we constantly have opportunities," she said.

Still, she is not without friends who have been anxious to find work. "In this market, it depends a lot on what your skill set is," she said.

Rob Smith of Idaho Falls was at the event in hopes of finding a part-time job that would suit his degree and background in accounting while he pursued a mechanical engineering degree at Idaho State University.

Smith, 32, got a degree in accounting from BYU-Idaho, but discovered that the earning potential wasn't what he thought it was. "The compensation wasn't what a lot of us expected coming out of school," he said. To earn the more than $40,000,"the only way you can get that is if you're a CPA or really lucky," he said.

Jessica Clapp, 22, said she was looking for a job as an administrative assistant or something in information technology. Since graduating from Idaho Falls High School in 2007, she has worked for two call centers (Qwest and Center Partners), in food service and retail. Since last July, when she was sidelined by a health problem, she has been living with her parents while looking for work.

"I'm looking for a career, not a job," she said.