If you’re an Atlanta job-seeker, you might find the market soft in the middle

Christy Carlin Fain (2)For Christy Carlin Fain, the job market offers a frustrating choice between taking work that doesn’t pay the bills and holding out for that better-paying position that keeps hovering out of reach.

Fain, 43, worked for the same company for 24 years in several positions, including administration and management of various office functions. She was laid off in November when the department completed a move to Texas.

Fain expected her experience would mesh quickly with an improving labor market. She was wrong.

“I was thinking that I’d have a job after a few weeks,” she said.

Georgia’s jobless rate is 5.4 percent. That’s down nearly 50 percent from the recession peaks and it’s about average historically. But there are still 260,000 jobless people in the state searching for work, often for middle-income positions.

Whether it’s because they are tainted by unemployment or age or because their skills don’t match openings, many struggle: more than one-third of the jobless have been out work more than six months.

Others, like Fain, see mostly jobs that pay far less than they made before.

“The problem, people say, is I am overqualified,” she said. “And what they mean is that I am asking for too much money.”

Some applicants handicap themselves because they don’t know how to present themselves, said Catherine Bovell, a career services specialist at Chattahoochee Technical College’s Acworth campus

Resumes are often written with grammatical or syntax problems, she said.

Job-seekers who have been bounced around by an erratic and evolving labor market also need to thread together experiences in a range of fields.

Transferable skills

“My father had one job for 25 years before he changed, so he had two jobs for his whole career,” Bovell said. “Now, you have a job market where many jobs are readily eliminated. You have to show that you have transferable skills. Say you are moving from transportation to the power industry. But an account manager is an account manager. HR is HR.”

Today’s job market can be hard to navigate partly because the economy itself is changing – sometimes in ways that are hard to gauge.

GreenPal, for example, is a web-based service meant to help homeowners choose a lawn-care service. Like ride-share companies, GreenPal lets providers bid and compete for jobs, and lets homeowners rate their work.

Started in Nashville and now operating in Atlanta, GreenPal probably won’t change how many lawns get cut, but if it catches on, it will eliminate a lot of hustling around looking for work. And if it makes the market more efficient, does it change the number of people working?

GreenPal co-founder Gene Caballero thinks it does, though he doesn’t yet have data to prove it.

“Last year there were a number of people in Nashville who told us they started lawn care companies because they knew they’d have the jobs,” he said.

Overall, the Georgia economy has been adding jobs for six years.

“We continue to see near-record highs in openings,” said Andy Decker, Atlanta-based senior regional president for staffing company Robert Half. “And we think we are going to continue to fill jobs.”

A recent career fare highlighted the range of openings — hundreds of jobs on offer from 31 employers at the event sponsored by the Cherokee Office of Economic Development and the state Labor Department.

A sign of improvement

One clear sign of the improvement in the job market: about 350 potential job-seekers came to the event, roughly half of the attendance last year.

Darryl Christmas (better)

One attendee, 32-year-old Darryl Christmas, of Woodstock, was an operations manager for a recycling company that downsized because the plunge in world prices savaged industry profits. He survived three waves of layoffs, finally losing his job last fall.

His wife works in a secure position with the federal government, but paying the family’s bills requires both paychecks, he said. “I could take a job at $8 an hour, but my household needs more than that.”

He would prefer to avoid manual labor, but he is starting to feel pressure to settle for what he can find.

“I am looking for anything,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you.”

From the employer’s perspective, the challenge is matching a job-seeker’s skills to the position – a tougher task when the job market is getting stronger, said Tina Evans, human resources manager of LAT Apparel.

Job-seekers have more options, she said. “We have noticed that the job market has gotten tighter in the last year. When we place an ad we don’t have the traffic that we used to.”

LAT Apparel is looking to hire for five or six jobs for its warehouses in Ball Ground, she said.

Metro Atlanta’s distribution sector has been a growth area since the recession. And the company, which has about 90 employees, needs more forklift operators, a $12- to $14-an-hour job, she said. “We prefer to hire someone with experience, but we could train them.”

And some employers are hiring in chunks.

Expansions create openings

Sunroof manufacturer Inalfa Roof Systems is adding about 100 to its workforce of 350, according to Brett Perryman, a production engineer. Jobs include assemblers, warehouse support, automation technicians, programmers and engineers.

Universal Alloy Corp., which makes airplane parts in Canton, is also looking for a mix of production and white-collar jobs. The hiring includes production operators, machine operators and engineers, starting typically at $23,000 to $25,000 a year, said Connie Hunter, the company’s recruiting coordinator.

Universal Allow has about 420 employees in Canton and is building another plant in Ball Ground.

Like most employers, the company prefers candidates who already have skills, but that is not always what they get, Hunter said. “A lot of people are just looking for a job. They come to us and have no skills and they just want work. ”

Universal hires both skilled and non-skilled workers, she said.

In general, more education and skills are advantages.

Army vet Karl Olsen, 25, of Atlanta, expects to graduate from Georgia Tech in 2017 with a degree in chemical engineering. He came to the Cherokee job fair looking for internships and co-op programs.

“I don’t think there’s much around here for a chemical engineer,” he said, but he added, “I’m not worried about a job. I would just like to stay in the area.”

His fiancé, Morgan Kennedy, 25, is about to graduate from Kennesaw State with a degree in biology. She has an internship in environmental science, but biology could take her in other directions, too.

“I am open to something in the medical field or technology, although there is a lot of competition for those jobs,” she said. “The job market is pretty good, but you just have to choose your path.”

 

Karl Olsen & Morgan Kennedy

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