Springfield, MO

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Low unemployment makes this an applicant's market

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by Paul Schreiber

SBJ Contributing Writer

For those seeking employment in Springfield in 1999, there should be a significant number of jobs available, according to Nancy Laird, marketing manager for Penmac Personnel Services. New companies coming to the city, like those at the Partnership Industrial Center, provide a "steady opportunity for general labor positions," she said.

Laird said Penmac's clerical division "is growing" and its "industrial division is staying steady." Clerical positions in demand include entry-level receptionists, data-entry personnel and middle-management positions. Industrial positions include both employees skilled in specific trades and unskilled workers.

The availability of jobs in the area is due largely to Springfield's low unemployment rate. "In September the rate for Greene County was 2 1/2 percent and the 12-month average from September of 1998 to October of 1997 was 3 percent," said Ron Hubbell, placement supervisor for the Missouri Division of Labor, Division of Employment Security.

With a rate that low, "there are fewer folks out there looking for work" and employers "have fewer applicants to choose from." He added. "It's certainly an applicant's market."

Sometimes this situation results in better compensation for employees. "We're seeing companies willing to pay more to get the quality and the level they need since it's not readily available like it's been in years past in Springfield," said Sheri Clines, office manager for Kelly Services. "There are a lot of employers that are looking for employees yet."

One sector where employers seek suitable applicants is in the skilled trades, said Valerie Earhart, program coordinator in economic development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. "We have a real shortage of people who can weld; people who are fabricators."

She added, "there doesn't seem to be young people that are coming into the skill trades; like plumbers, pipe-fitters, carpenters."

Part of the chamber's work is to address the shortage of skilled applicants for local industrial employers.

Earhart said "adults tend to lead kids in the way of a more professional career and don't really explore the idea of skilled trades."

She said the chamber and the manufacturing industry are trying to overcome the stigma of industrial work and the false impression that it can't provide a comfortable living for an employee and his or her family.

Additional employment opportunities will continue to be available in Springfield's services industry and in retail trade, according to Amy Miller, a research analyst III for the research and analysis section of the Missouri Department of Labor in Jefferson City.

Service industry positions include jobs in "education, business services, health services and legal services," she said.

An abundance of available jobs doesn't always mean people can find the right match for their particular skills, however. "There are a lot of people who are possibly overqualified for the jobs they have now," Earhart said. "When we're able to bring more technical jobs to the area and more professional jobs, I think that benefits the population here," she added.

In regard to jobs requiring professional expertise or technical training, the forecast for Springfield is positive. Miller said research indicated "professional and technical occupations are going to be some of the fastest-growing occupations" in Springfield and southwest Missouri.

Another issue is of wages.

"The open availability of positions is good," Clines said, "but I think the pay scale is a hindrance for a few people coming in from elsewhere."

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