Despite 9 percent unemployment, state says region has 16,000 open jobs

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Derek Fahey, center, a Publix store manager, greets attendees at the Edison State College Collier Campus Career Fair on Nov. 1, 2012 in East Naples. Between 400 and 500 students and other jobs seekers showed up to network with potential employers. More than 30 vendors were represented at the fair.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Derek Fahey, center, a Publix store manager, greets attendees at the Edison State College Collier Campus Career Fair on Nov. 1, 2012 in East Naples. Between 400 and 500 students and other jobs seekers showed up to network with potential employers. More than 30 vendors were represented at the fair.

Here are the employers with the highest number of job openings advertised online in Southwest Florida through the Employ Florida Marketplace:

1) Lee County Public Schools, 285

2) Lee Memorial Health System, 206

3) McDonald’s Corp., 188

4) Name withheld, 184

5) PETCO Animal Supplies Inc., 182

6) Chico’s FAS Inc., 133

7) NCH Healthcare System, 116

8) Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., 94

9) Pizza Hut Inc., 87

10) HCR ManorCare, 86

Total job openings advertised online in the region: 16,115

Number of potential candidates: 72,882

Source: Labor Market Services, employflorida.com, as of Nov. 8, 2012 >

— Businesses across Southwest Florida are hanging out the "now hiring" sign.

Yet, many say they can't find enough workers locally to hire, despite lingering high unemployment.

In the five-county region that includes Lee and Collier counties, there are more than 16,000 job openings advertised online, according to the Employ Florida Marketplace, Florida's job-matching website.

In Lee County alone, there are more than 8,400 advertised openings. In Collier, they top 5,000, including more than 100 listed for NCH Healthcare System and 50 for the two Ritz-Carlton resorts.

"Selecting the right talent and making the right fit is always the human resource challenge. We're constantly recruiting," said Bruce Seigel, director of sales and marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples.

Meanwhile, there are nearly 73,000 candidates hunting for jobs across the region, with more than two-thirds of them looking for work in Lee and Collier counties. In the two counties, jobless rates still hover above 9 percent. While it seems there would be no shortage of job candidates, local employers say they must search elsewhere to find workers and sometimes just leave jobs open, unable to find the right people here.

"It can be challenging to fill specific technical jobs, in which case we do spend money to advertise jobs in other markets and provide relocation packages to new hires," said Lisa Gardiner, a spokeswoman for Arthrex Inc., a medical device manufacturer headquartered in Naples.

The region's employers say one of their biggest challenges is finding local workers with the right skills. About 30 percent of the jobs advertised online in Southwest Florida require a bachelor's degree, for example, but only about 16 percent of the potential candidates in the region have one, according to Employ Florida Marketplace.

"There's a gap and as you start to go up the educational ladder, the gap gets to be larger and more significant," said Jim Wall, communications director for Southwest Florida Works, the state workforce board that connects employers with job seekers.

It doesn't help, he said, that more employers today want workers with many skills and talents, not just one or two.

"The employers are saying, 'Yes I'm hiring, but here's what I'm looking for' and what they are looking for used to be three different people with three different skill sets and now they're looking for one person to do those three different jobs," Wall said.

Arthrex alone has 160 open positions in its workforce of 1,600 in Southwest Florida, with multiple openings for the same job. The available jobs are mostly in manufacturing and information services.

"Businesses need to take an active role and work closely with local high schools, technical education centers, colleges and universities to design educational programs that will meet their future needs," Gardiner said.

For example, Arthrex and other manufacturers in the region helped design a new training program for vocational technical schools in Lee and Collier counties for machinists. Arthrex has hired four new machinists from the program.

* * * * *

The growing health-care industry has been a bright spot in the local economy, but most of the jobs advertised require not only specialized training, but experience.

Lee Memorial Health System — one of the largest employers in Lee — has a little more than 200 job openings through the Employ Florida website, but the hospital operator says it actually has nearly 400, out of a total of 10,200 positions.

"Finding local experienced clinical staff is challenging," said Kristy Rigot, system director for human resources. "We typically have to recruit outside the local market for clinical positions."

The health system hires about 200 new registered nurse graduates from the local market every year, she said.

"Most of the experienced clinical staff that live in Lee County are already employed here," Rigot said. "Also, we have high standards to hire the best talent and recruit from the local, state and national markets."

Among the toughest jobs to fill are ones for critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and therapists, she said.

In Collier, NCH tops the list for jobs advertised online, according to Employ Florida Marketplace. Those jobs are primarily in the nursing, rehabilitation, laboratory, billing and admitting departments.

With so many job openings, NCH gets a flood of applications, but candidates often don't fill them out thoroughly, hurting their chances for getting hired, said Sandra Danielson, talent acquisition manager for the company.

"The application is the first impression that anyone presents to an employer and due to the volume of applications a company receives, a great local candidate could appear to be less-qualified by simply not submitting all of their qualifications," she said.

* * * * *

Southwest Florida Works offers retraining programs to help unemployed residents find jobs, helping to pick up the cost of that training with government grants. But after getting retrained, workers often struggle to find jobs because they lack experience, said Wall, the agency's communications director.

Going through the retraining can be tough, especially for older adults.

Bryan Bradbury, 38, an Iraqi war veteran who lives in Lehigh Acres, was in a pre-nursing program at Edison State College but had to drop out as his bills piled up.

"I was basically living off my military disability and the GI bill. When you're almost 40 years old, you have bills and responsibilities and you can only live so long on that small amount of money. So I've had to go back to work," he said.

He's trying to get into a more entry-level program at the Lee County High-Tech Center to become a licensed practical nurse, or LPN. Even if he gets his LPN license, he's not so sure he will find a job.

"It's just this big revolving door, where the employers want experience," he said, "and if you don't have experience how do you get that experience?"

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Michelile Devariste, left, and Lerome Antoinies Plancher, right, assist one another in completing a job application for Stock Development at the Edison State College Collier Campus Career Fair on Nov. 1, 2012 in East Naples. Between 400 and 500 people showed up to network with potential employers.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Michelile Devariste, left, and Lerome Antoinies Plancher, right, assist one another in completing a job application for Stock Development at the Edison State College Collier Campus Career Fair on Nov. 1, 2012 in East Naples. Between 400 and 500 people showed up to network with potential employers.

* * * * *It's not just the big companies in Southwest Florida that can't find local workers.

David Lester, an owner of International Fine Art Expositions in Bonita Springs and SeaFair, a mega-yacht that's used as a traveling art exhibit, needs two to three more employees for sales and gallery coordination. He can't find those workers locally.

"You can't take construction workers and put them in an international art business. That's just not going to click," he said.

Pelican Wire Co. Inc., a medium-size manufacturer of insulated wire used in everything from military helicopters to digital thermometers, could fill another 10 jobs if it could find that many people to hire locally, said Ted Bill, company president.

The growing company has 60 employees at its headquarters in eastern Collier.

"In Southwest Florida, you have a lot of people that are life-long service industry employees and life-long construction industry employees and you take them and put them in a manufacturing facility and you put them in front of a machine to run and they don't know what to do with themselves," he said.

* * * * *

This time of year, seasonal work offers more opportunities for job hunters in Southwest Florida.

The two Physicians Regional campuses in Collier County, owned and operated by Naples-based Health Management Associates Inc., have more than 100 seasonal jobs open, most of them for registered nurses.

Publix Super Markets Inc., a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Lakeland, has about 370 seasonal jobs in 22 stores in Southwest Florida that it wants to fill locally.

Publix needs everything from produce, seafood, deli and grocery clerks to cake decorators and cashiers for season. But it's so hard to find local workers that the grocer plans to hire 180 foreign exchange students to fill some of its seasonal jobs here.

"Southwest Florida is on the top of places where it's hard for us to find local individuals who want to work for Publix," company spokeswoman Shannon Patten said.

Types of jobs with most potential candidates in Southwest Florida:

Occupation...........Mean annual wage......candidates...openings

1) Maintenance and repair workers, general $33,776.....................367...............9

2) Construction managers..........................$84,642......................321..............5

3) Administrative services managers........... $93,442.....................876.............20

4) Child, family, and school social workers...$45,702.......................64..............1

5) Helpers, installation, maintenance, repair..$23,910......................62..............1

6) Construction and building inspectors........$55,665......................57...............1

7) Welders, cutters, and welder fitters...........$33,573......................84...............2

8) Radiologic technicians..............................N/A...........................38...............1

9) Social and community service managers...$81,045......................34...............1

10) Order fillers, wholesale and retail sales...$24,440......................34................1

__ Source: Employ Florida Marketplace, as of Nov. 8, 2012

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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