Job practice

Students Stephanie Correll, left, of Martins Creek and Nicole Fisher of Bath practice dispensing medicine in Northampton County Community College's medical assistance program. (April Bartholomew/The Morning Call)

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.

Health care

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.