Looking to land a job in the Lehigh Valley?
Better get trained-up, certified and computer savvy.
Not sure what you want to do? Consider the fields of health care, engineering, computers, high-tech manufacturing, green jobs or distribution and logistics.
Those are some of the sectors in which Lehigh Valley companies plan to hire additional workers this year, even as the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent and nearly 31,000 local workers remain unable to find jobs.
After two sluggish years, the local hiring outlook is gradually growing more positive, said Bethlehem economist Kamran Afshar, who conducts a quarterly survey of Lehigh Valley businesses for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
"Last January, the average business was going to reduce expenditures by almost 1 percent over the next six months," Afshar said. "This January, they are going to increase expenditures 1.5 percent over the next six months.
Aside from a few isolated examples -- Amazon's recent hiring of hundreds of workers to staff its Upper Macungie distribution center or the Bethlehem Sands' expected hiring to open its new hotel later this year -- most of that hiring will come in dribs and drabs.
"On a lot of the job orders I see, I see onesies and twosies," said Bob Wendt, director of research at the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board. "I don't see a company saying we need 50 engineers employers are so cautious these days that by the time it gets translated into a job order, which becomes very specific for an individual, they come across in onesies and twosies."
This year, Outlook examines the Lehigh Valley job market, focusing on which employers are planning to hire and what kind of workers they are seeking. Health care, utilities and green-related industries are expected to be among the growth leaders, but tourism and hospitality also are poised for growth, driven by development on Bethlehem's South Side.
Some once-reliable sectors aren't looking as promising as they once were. Housing construction -- for example -- continues to lag, making construction jobs scarce.
This special section also offers practical advice for job seekers and tells the stories of entrepreneurs who turned a job loss into an opportunity. How did they get their business off the ground when the economy was in the doldrums?
A quick look at the board's ranking of top 25 Lehigh Valley job openings gives a snapshot of the type of workers who are in demand.
There are lots of health care jobs on the list: Registered and licensed practical nurses, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists, to name a few.
The Lehigh Valley's two largest hospital networks -- St. Luke's and Lehigh Valley -- are both planning to add employees this year as the region grows and baby boomers continue to age. St Luke's in particular will need to staff its new Riverside Center on Route 33 in Bethlehem Township, which is scheduled to open in January.
That new facility, which could eventually become the hub of the St. Luke's network, will need 400 workers from a combination of new hires and internal transfers by the fall to get up and running, said Bob Zimmel, senior vice president for human resources.
"We are really going to be looking at all kinds of positions, medical areas, professional, management as well as some entry-level," said Rochelle Schaller, vice president of human resources.
Many of the most in-demand health care occupations, such as physician's assistant or physical therapist, require significant training, said Debby Patrick, Lehigh Valley's vice president of human resources, but the time it takes to get the needed skills can be a worthwhile investment.
"That is one thing about health care, if you get into it, there is always a way for you to grow personally and professionally," Patrick said.
Valley employers also are looking to fill computer-related jobs like software engineers, support specialists and system analysts. Add to that a variety of sales and back-office jobs like customer service, executive secretary and sales manager.
And here's a mix of in-demand jobs that might seem surprising: drivers of both light delivery trucks and heavy tractor-trailers, industrial engineers and first-line supervisors of production and operating workers. A couple of once-strong areas that have tapered off: construction and government.
"Historically the housing market and construction and such was the lead in most recoveries or at least a concurrent or leading indicator, this time around it is nowhere to be found," Afshar said.
Big names, small names
Some of the hiring in 2011 will come for the region's national brand names: Crayola, Olympus, PPL, Air Products and Lutron are among big-name local employers who are expected to hire 10 or more people in 2011.
PPL expects to hire about 300 to 400 people a year in fields like engineering, electrical and mechanical occupations, information technology, finance and power mechanic and operator over the next several years, mostly to replace workers who retire or leave the company, said Andrew Kantner, manager of recruitment and selection.
Finding candidates whose skills match up exactly with PPL's needs, especially in some of the engineering fields, can be challenging. The company has been partnering with technical schools and universities to try to get the word out.
The Lehigh Valley has about 300 companies with more than 100 workers, Wendt said, but more than 11,000 companies with nine or fewer workers will account for much of the hiring.
"They are probably in an industrial park with no name on the masthead," Wendt said. "They come to us and they are looking for workers, but the workers don't know those jobs exist."
Palmer Township's Gray Connective isn't exactly a household name, but the 60-person company that specializes in helping its customers improve energy efficiency has been growing and gradually adding employees. Last year, they added two electrical workers and may add two more this year.
With electricity and fuel prices rising, more companies are looking to reduce their energy costs, which creates demand for Gray's services, said Mike Gibson, Gray Connective's vice president of sales development.
"The Lehigh Valley is full of small and midsized companies like ours who are growing and adding employees and looking for new niches," Gibson said.
Finding a job is hard work
Finding a job in 2011 will require workers to be proactive, to search in every corner of the Internet, attend every job fair and chamber of commerce mixer and update their training with the skills and credentials employers need, said Nancy Dischinat, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board.
A new "job spidering" tool developed by the State Department of Labor and Industry can help job seekers by scouring the Web and other job boards for openings.
"In this economy it is not easy," Dischinat said. "It's not easy knowing what to be. It is not easy deciding what kind of training to go into. It is not easy finding employers who are hiring. You don't just sit at home and wait. You must be totally engaged and committed in your job search and you have to have a plan and you have to be skilled and you have to be smarter."
Part of that plan should include job training, Dischinat said. Outside of low-paying entry-level jobs in retail or at local distribution centers or call centers, most career-track jobs require post-secondary training and in many cases, some type of professional certification, whether you are installing solar panels or cleaning teeth.
In some fields, such as skilled manufacturing, employers can't find enough qualified workers. And technology skills remain in high demand.
Allentown's Akrion Systems, which makes equipment used in the manufacture of computer chips, semiconductors and more recently solar cells, hired 30 people last year, bringing its total employment to about 130 workers, said Joe McManus, the company's director of marketing.
The company expects to hire as many as 30 more people this year, many in engineering and technical service occupations, but also some in manufacturing, he said.
"As our business has been coming back, each time we continue to increase our revenue or sales backlog, we make the decision we will fill this opening or that opening," McManus said. "
Employers in every sector, from food service to warehousing, are looking for workers who can demonstrate they are comfortable with computers and the latest technology, Wendt said.
"In logistics, the person who drives a forklift now carries a PDA that shows them and tells them what they are doing," he said. "They go and swipe it, they put the thing in the truck, they swipe it again, it creates the manifest."