Utah job market uncertain after 1998 struggles

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    by Teressa Genetti-Scott and Tawna Turner

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    IN THIS STORY:

    Employment Outlook

    Looking Ahead

    The Department of Work Force Services says Utah County’s employee-friendly market, which has driven wages up and unemployment rates down, has reached its peak and is slowly falling.

    The third quarter of 1998, which included July, August and September, marked the high point of a subtle and steady rise in employment growth. But the fourth quarter, which included October, November and December, is expected to show a reduction in employment growth.

    Mark Knold, labor economist for the Department of Work Force Services, said the layoff of 600 Geneva Steel employees in September accounts for part of the reduction in employment growth.

    Several years ago, the county’s economy was roaring along with average yearly growth rates at or near 8 percent, Knold said.

    “In its own right (the current growth rate) must be viewed as characteristic of a strong economy, but only doing it at a much quieter level than the 8 percent growth rate inspired,” he said.

    Coupled with the county’s low unemployment rate of 2.7 percent, Knold said the growth rate points to a moderately growing economy.

    Employment Outlook

    While services, trade, construction and government still top Utah County’s job market, the county’s computer industry has continued to grow, despite Corel’s relocation to Canada over the summer.

    About 40 percent of Utah County’s new industrial jobs can be credited to computer industry growth, Knold said. Most of the computer growth is coming from medium-sized, lesser-known companies rather than from larger, more high-profile businesses with longer track records.

    He said this includes businesses like InsureQuote Systems, NETSchools and Big Planet in Provo, Power Quest and Galaxy Mall in Orem and Dentric System in American Fork. These small companies have added 700 new jobs to the economy.

    Jim Steadman, area manager for SOS Staffing Services, said this increase in technical businesses has affected everyone from company managers to receptionists.

    “We’re seeing companies want more than just a receptionist to answer phones. We’re seeing they need software skills,” he said.

    To ensure employees meet the required skill level, SOS tests job applicant’s skills on various data processing and spreadsheet programs, ranging from Word and WordPerfect to Excel.

    However, Steadman said Utah County’s unemployment rate has made it difficult for some companies to find employees with the right computer skills.

    “With testing, we can upgrade skills. We can tutor so they really can understand more than just the basics,” Steadman said.

    Liz Meyers, 54, moved back to Orem about a month ago from Alabama. Her family lives close to Novell, so she is hoping to get some kind of clerical position there. Despite years of experience as a secretary, she is worried her computer skills are too outdated.

    “My level is on WordPerfect 5.1 on DOS. To get a job a job at Novell, you need to be at least at level 7 or 8 in my area,” Meyers said. While she plans on using some tutoring programs offered by the Adecco employment agency in Orem, she is still worried about competition.

    For Ryod Nelson, president of Environmental Modeling Systems Inc., computer skills make all the difference in hiring decisions. Because his company distributes software all over the world via the Internet, a technical background is a must for his employees.

    “We try to make sure people have skills related to be able to use the Internet. Almost everything we do is saved in databases, which uses different kinds of computer software to keep track of who purchases our products,” Nelson said.

    While Nelson would prefer to hire those employees with a technical background, he said it is not always possible. He said sometimes it is necessary to do on-site training.

    “When you hire someone, you don’t know how long it’s going to take to train a person or if they are really going to be able to pick it up,” Nelson said.

    Looking Ahead

    In the Mountainland region of Utah, Summit and Wasatch counties, an above-average employment growth is expected to occur over the next five years.

    An average of about 9,500 new job openings are projected to occur in an area with 8,500 employers, according to a report released last week by the Department of Work force Services.

    The report said by the year 2003, 26 percent of all the jobs in Utah County will require at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest proportion of bachelor’s or higher degrees required in any region in the state. Another 8 percent will require at least an associate’s or applied technology education.

    As for job trends, the market will continue to be dominated by production, operating and maintenance jobs. By 2003, it is expected these types of jobs will take up 25 percent of the market.

    Services and clerical occupations will each claim about 13 percent to 15 percent of the total employment or roughly 24 to 28,000 position.

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