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‘Hottest jobs’ something of a mixed bag in Mississippi

Looking at the occupations in the most demand over the next decade in Mississippi, it is readily apparent that the outlook is somewhat of a mixed bag, says a report from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s Labor Market Information.

“When education, training and wages are factored into the equation, one finds that many of the jobs which will require the most new and replacement workers generally pay below average wages and require little or no advanced preparation,” says the 2005 report “Occupations In Demand.” “There are some notable exceptions to this general tendency, such as registered nurses and general and operations managers. Each of these requires substantial education or experience and pay well above the regional average. Among the top ten demand occupations, the only other one which promises above average overall pay is truck drivers.”

Roughly half of the top 100 occupations will require little or no formal training. And only approximately one in four of the top 100 occupations in demand have potential earnings above the regional average of $26,910 per year.

About 45% of the jobs in greatest demand will require moderate to long term preparation. But only four of the top 100 occupations fall into the category of jobs that require extensive education andor experience.

Nurses in demand

The top hottest job in the state is registered nurses, which command an average starting wage of $34,794 and an average annual wage of about $45,000. Licensed practical nurses and licensed occupation nurses are the 17th job in most demand, with average starting salaries of $21,643 and average annual wages of about $24,000.

Right now there is a shortage of nurses both in the state, as well as nationally.

“In Mississippi the shortage varies anywhere from about 7% in the urban areas such as Jackson to 20% in the rural, underserved areas like the Delta,” said Ricki Garrett, executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association. “The hurricane has exacerbated that problem on the Mississippi Gulf Coast because about 70% of the nurses on the Coast are being recruited by other states. These other states are desperate for the nurses themselves.”

Housing is a big problem for Coast nurses. In some cases, their facilities whether a hospital or a clinic have been damaged or destroyed. Garrett is not sure if there is more of a shortage of nurses on the Gulf Coast now than before Katrina. A survey is being done to find out the needs of Gulf Coast nurses, and whether they are planning on staying in the state or leaving.

There are plenty of people who want to be trained to be nurses. The biggest problem is that there aren’t enough faculty to train new nurses.

“We’re turning away several thousand highly qualified students every year because of the shortage of nursing faculty,” Garrett said. “They can get better pay in the private sector, in some cases twice what they can make teaching. The Legislature just provided for a $6,000 pay increase for nursing faculty, so we are optimistic that will help.”

One school of nursing recently had 498 applicants for 48 student positions.

Garrett said it is very frustrating to need those people in nursing and not be able to accept them into nursing school.
The nursing shortage is expected to get worse as the country’s 70 million baby boomers place more demands on the healthcare system as the population ages.

Another hot job in Mississippi is for carpenters — and this report was done before Hurricane Katrina greatly increased the demand for all types of construction workers. Carpenters were listed as the 15th “hottest” job in the 2005 report with average starting wages at $17,795 and average wages of $21,000.

Training needed

It is likely those wages have gone up now with the increased demand caused by Hurricane Katrina. One carpenter on the Coast said average wages have gone up approximately 20% with most people still finding it difficult to find a carpenter for repairs or new construction. That demand could continue for years.

“A lot of it is guess work, but some people are seeing rebuilding going on for the next 10 years down there,” said Robert W. Dean, president, Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. “Your greatest needs are based on the number of units lost in residential. You have commercial and industrial building needs, as well. But an awful lot of homes need to be repaired and replaced.”

Dean believes there is a drastic need for workforce development on the Coast, which will also affect the rest of the state and surrounding states. The variable is when residential building will start gathering steam.

“A lot of that work hasn’t started yet,” Dean said. “When it does, construction careers will be in high, high demand. I have heard in some case the salaries have gone up. I think it’s going to be a matter of supply and demand, and what can be negotiated between the contactor and workers.”

Hitting the highway

Wages for truck drivers may also be headed up because of shortages.

“Our industry is currently experiencing a shortage of about 20,000 long-haul drivers,” said Tiffany Wlazlowski, director of public affairs, American Trucking Associations. “The industry is certainly working to correct that problem. As part of that, motor carriers are increasing wages, increasing benefits, and looking at what else they can do to attract and retain qualified drivers. It certainly does make it a good time to be in the industry.”

One of the downsides is that drivers can be away from home for several weeks at a home. Wlazlowski said the industry is working to address this by investigating how drivers can get home more frequently, how to get drivers more regular routes and what kind of technology can be put in the trucks to make the job easier.

“We are absolutely looking at quality of life issues in large part because of the shortage and because we need to find ways to attract new drivers to this industry,” Wlazlowski said.

Later this year, the trucking associations plan a large marketing campaign towards groups of people who haven’t traditionally considered trucking as an occupation including women, minorities, couples, ex-military and people who are close to retirement.

The best paying of the top 10 “hottest” jobs is for general and operations managers, which are in the number two position with an average starting wage of $32,800 and average annual wages $67,651. Chief executives are the 11th highest job in demand with average starting wages of $40,705 and average annual wages of $100,735.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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