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Hiring problem a thing of the past

It's much easier for companies to find qualified workers today, in large part because of recession-driven layoffs.

By KRIS HUNDLEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002


Good news for job seekers: Half the companies responding to the Times Business Outlook survey said they intend to add workers this year.

Great news for those doing the hiring: It's much easier to find skilled workers now than it has been in years past.

Four years ago, more than half the employers said they had a lot of trouble finding job candidates with sufficient skills. Last year, that was down to 29 percent. This year, only 19 percent said they're having problems identifying qualified hires.

Credit the dramatic shift in the quality of the available labor pool to the rising number of workers laid off during the current recession. Trained and eager to get back in the job market, they're unlikely to make the kind of salary and benefit demands common during the boom times of the late 1990s.

Among those facing a motherlode of highly qualified workers are law firms and tech companies that survived the dot-com bust.

At NetWise Technology in St. Petersburg, president and chief executive Randy Wadle said he could put an ad in the newspaper tomorrow and have 100 resumes on his desk overnight.

"There's a large number of low- to medium-skilled tech people in the area," said Wadle, who hopes to add to his 18-person staff this year. "And since we've already built out our higher-level positions, it's the junior development kind we're looking for."

Chris Perkins, executive vice president of Fahlgren advertising agency in Tampa, said his industry has lost 80,000 jobs in the past year because of the economy. "So I have no issues in finding great talent," he said. "There's quite a bit locally and a ton nationally that I can bring in at relatively low expense."

Perkins said job candidates also have shifted from a belief that only the top markets matter. "There's been a departure from the time when people thought it was interesting and exciting to head to larger markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles," he said. "Now people are interested in a better quality of life, and Tampa Bay offers that."

Richard Gehring, principal in Dunedin's Prime Interests Inc., said the number of experienced people available for hire by his design and construction services company remains fairly consistent over the years. But as some major construction projects, particularly in the tourist industry, are put on hold, prices for workers decline.

"Three or four years ago, the workers were there, they were just more expensive," Gehring said.

Some professions say even with rising unemployment, the demand still exceeds the supply.

Hospitals still report a shortage of qualified nurses, and the building trades are scrambling for electricians. In the commercial real estate field, finding experienced brokers during a down cycle is a challenge.

"In the past we've hired professional salespeople right out of college and brought them along," said Ray Sandelli, senior managing director for Florida for CB Richard Ellis. "Now we're looking for someone who understands the cyclical nature of the business. It takes a certain constitution."

Sandelli acknowledges it's not quite as attractive to be handling commercial real estate today, compared with the fast and lucrative pace of the past few years.

"It's like when the auto industry is doing poorly it may be hard to find car salesmen," he said. "But in downturns, our real estate clients probably need us more than ever."

-- Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996.

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