BETH N. GRAY
Relatively low unemployment means those seeking work might have to think small and knock on some doors.
Pamela Abbey sat at a computer at Career Central on Forest Oaks Boulevard recently, scrolling through job listings.
The Spring Hill resident has been searching on and off for work since she moved here from Erie, Pa., a year ago.
"I'm having a hard time finding adequate employment," said Abbey, 50, who has a two-year degree in liberal arts, a pleasant personality and a smile.
Abbey figures the degree should have put her in good stead, but she hasn't found "work that I'm qualified for that pays a decent wage."
Decent would be $20,000 a year with benefits, she said. She thinks that's not asking too much.
Her last three years in Erie, working as a residential aide in a facility for developmentally disabled adults, suggested to Abbey that she could succeed as a part-time paraprofessional in a classroom for troubled boys at Deltona Elementary School in Spring Hill. But she found it "a bit stressful." Abbey's name remains on a call-as-needed list at the school, but it is for food service and janitorial chores.
In a pinch, she also did a stint at McDonald's.
Abbey believes she can do better - that with experience as a caregiver, she should be able to find a position in the health care industry here.
Abbey's struggle is not uncommon for people looking for work in Hernando County. If she is looking for a job in health care, that's good, said Dave Hamilton, contract administrator with the Pasco-Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Regional Board, which oversees Career Central.
"Health care is hiring," Hamilton said.
He said the biggest demand is for skilled health care workers: licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, radiation technologists and post-high school medical personnel.
Maybe Abbey isn't looking in the right places, Hamilton suggested.
"With the current unemployment rate (5.3 percent in Hernando in October, the most recent month for which statistics are available), it is not easy, and maybe some of the typical ways of looking for jobs are not working," Hamilton said.
"Oftentimes, it will be your own network with the guys who are hiring. And you look to the small businesses," he said.
Some of those businesses may not list with Career Central or advertise jobs, but will merely ask around: "Hey, do you know anybody looking for work?" Hamilton said. "It's always good to knock on doors."
Hamilton pointed out that the Hernando job market is relatively small. The labor force numbers 51,680. Of those, 49,018 were employed in October. Along with Abbey, 2,662 were looking for work.
Throughout 2003, unemployment figures locally fluctuated, from a low of 4.8 percent in March to a high of 5.7 percent in July; the current estimate is 5.2 percent, Hamilton reported. But the latest decreases may be attributed to the discouraged unemployed who are no longer looking for jobs.
Still, the county's numbers have generally been healthier than the national unemployment rate.
While Abbey moved here to be close to her parents in Spring Hill and to escape the cold up north, she didn't make a bad choice, Hamilton said, despite her trouble finding work.
"The thing is Florida has a positive employment growth, totally different from the country," he said. "After 9/11, the tourist industry has recovered. There is steady employment in government, school systems and health care. And there is a construction boom fueled (locally) by the Suncoast Parkway. Service industries are hiring."
Still, it's largely an employer's market, he acknowledged.
Employers are tapping Career Central.
Just inside the door, a marker board announced in mid January: "HOT JOBS."
Listed were an employer services manager at $35,000 annually, bachelor's degree required; a parent services specialist at $8-plus an hour; a utilities worker at $9 to $15 an hour; customer service workers in the range of $10 an hour, some with bonuses. And Sam's Club was seeking member greeters, retail stock clerks, retail cashiers - all part-time jobs - plus tire mounters.
Abbey tapped away at the computer, hoping to find the right fit.