Employment agencies report changing market landscape

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Published: September 29,2008

Mississippi employment agencies are staying busy but there are some changing trends. Those trends include more temporary-to-permanent placements, an increasing demand for higher administrative skills and a slow down in hiring in the automotive industry. There’s also a current high demand for engineers in the metro Jackson area.

Maurice Miller, managing partner of the Spherion Corporation’s Jackson office, says Jackson engineering firms need more engineers for projects going on in the Jackson-Flowood-Madison area.

“There’s a specific need for mechanical, electrical and technical engineers right now,” he said. “There is a great demand, but we’ve been able to fill them. We stress to our clients that their package has to really be strong because there’s lots of competition. We help our clients understand what they need to get people to change jobs.”

Working Solutions president Rob Thornton is currently recruiting engineers for a road-building client with work throughout the Southeast along with some industrial technical jobs.

“We’ve had five engineering positions in just a couple of weeks and are touching base with engineering firms to know what they’re looking for in an ideal candidate,” he said. “In general, there are more calls for technical positions now.”

The automotive industry is not so hot. “Automotive is crawling right now,” he said. “Usually this is a busy time of year with Nissan rolling out new models, but production is down.”

He fears that even vibrant businesses are scared to hire more people as economic negativity trickles down. “Some employers are slacking off with hiring people, although clerical is still pretty good,” he said. “Industrial, shipping and stocking are good, too. Probably 85% of employees are hired as temporary to permanent.”

Tim Dillard, owner of Express Employment Professionals, has observed the automotive slowdown, too, along with the financial sector. Still, he sees an increase in the demand for skilled labor and in the office services business.

“Clients are having a harder time filling technical positions, machinists and skilled manufacturing positions,” he said. “There’s a shortage, and I see a need for more hybrid employees with technical and mechanical backgrounds who can work on the line and in other jobs. I think we’ll see more companies go to that type of employee.”

Government, he points out, used to be number one in employment in the Capital City. “That shifted to second place last year and healthcare became number one,” he said. “A lot of administrative support is needed in that, and clerical is changing. It is now leaning more toward skills. Businesses used to have switchboard operators, but today 25% have gone to computerized switchboards.”

His employment agency is approximately a 60/40 ratio of industrial/clerical job placements with a great walk-in flow and a lot of referrals.

On the whole, Dillard says the metro area is looking for more professional-type candidates. “We’re trying to help raise that bar. We’re helping educate the workforce,” he added.

When Spherion first opened in Jackson, it handled a lot of short-term clerical positions, but Miller has seen that change. “Businesses are now looking more for direct hires and temporary-to-permanent,” he said. “That will always be a base for us, but we’re also seeing a lot of technical positions now to fill.”

He finds that high-end clerical skills are in demand — candidates with good computer skills who can excel and are promotable. “We run them through tests to validate their computer skills and can call employers and get them hired,” he said.

Thornton also sees the era of three-day clerical assignments changing to a demand for temporary-to-permanent. “Employers are being cautious with spending and trying to get a good return on their money,” he said. “There are positions still out there, and employers looking for good people. That hasn’t changed.”

He’s optimistic about employment opportunities in Mississippi, but believes employers are more selective. That’s why Working Solutions likes for job applicants to do as much as they can online before coming to the office.

“That allows them to get acclimated to our company,” he said. “Then we give them a call and forward a test to them to do online, after which they’re invited in for an interview.”

All three employment executives see some negative effects of the national economy in the state market, but they maintain a positive outlook.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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