January 7, 2011
Where the jobs are: Experts forecast growth in several sectors in 2011
Special to NWjobs
Bank failures, massive layoffs, furloughed workers -- the recession has created a long string of bad news in employment in the Seattle area. But as we begin 2011, there appears to be more than a glimmer of hope for a slow recovery in jobs during the next few months -- one that might actually make a dent in the state’s 9.2 percent unemployment rate.
When the economic going gets tough, the tough turn to Arun Raha, the chief economist for Washington state and the executive director of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. For the first time in the past couple of years, his crystal ball has lightened a few shades --- just clear enough that you can make out J-O-B-S.
“2011 will be a year of transition,” Raha says cautiously. “The economy is slowly picking up steam. Right now, it’s too slow to create momentum, but we expect it will gather strength through next year.”
The key to determining whether this momentum will be self-sustaining will depend on the performance of the professional- and business-services sector, which includes accountants, lawyers, engineers, IT support and temporary workers. This broad category, Raha says, should add about 17,000 new jobs this year, and perhaps as many as 51,000 jobs through 2013. “We’re starting to see more temp hires, so that’s a very positive sign,” he adds.
If there is to be a long-term recovery, Richard Zambacca, president of technical and engineering placement firm Think Resources, says that IT, telecommunications and software firms will lead the way. In the past few weeks, he says, new job postings for IT in the Seattle area have doubled. Local IT staffing at Think Resources is up 44 percent compared with this time last year.
Another Seattle economic powerhouse, the gaming industry (now often referred to as interactive media), has been flexing its muscle all through the recession. Sales of the Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii have been healthy, and dozens of smaller game-design studios have popped up in the region.
Demand for gaming workers is so great that talent is becoming hard to find, says Kristina Hudson, director of the economic-development program Washington Interactive Network. “Flash developers are really hard to find right now,” she says. “There has been a burst of startup companies --  has been the best year for startups. You’ll see larger companies, like Gas Powered Games, incubating smaller companies.”
One sign of the gaming industry’s health was a recent announcement from the Australia-based Academy of Interactive Entertainment, which is planning to open a branch in Seattle in June. The company expects to offer classes in game development and 3-D imaging within the next four years.
On the health-care front, there is perennial demand for nurses, Raha says, regardless of economic cycles. However, a growing niche within health care is the need for coding technicians who can help hospitals digitize records. These types of support and administrative functions are expected to make up much of the predicted 17,000-job growth, he says, in the education and health-care sector through 2013.
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For more information, visit www.wa.gov/esd/e-learning/default.htm.
A sift through jobs data uncovers a few bright spots in unexpected places. For instance, a recent study by enterpriseSeattle found that fashion and apparel industries employ more than 34,000 people in the Puget Sound region. Formerly dowdy Seattle, the study found, is becoming one of the most robust apparel hot spots in the country, with a 13 percent expected growth in fashion-designer jobs through 2018.
The local construction industry -- which bled away roughly 70,000 jobs during the recession -- is expected to rebound somewhat in the next two years, Raha says. While there still appears to be no pulse in the homebuilding industry, several new civic projects -- such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, the 520 floating bridge replacement and light-rail expansion -- could bring back about 25,000 of those lost jobs in the next two years, Raha says.
Another major growth factor is Seattle’s location, on the booming Pacific Rim with easy access to enormous markets in China. “We are the nation’s most trade-intensive state, and exports are doing well,” Raha says. “Non-transportation-related exports are expected to grow by 12.5 percent by the third quarter of next year.”
The resurgence in seagoing container-ship traffic has been a boon to Carl Ellis, dean of the Seattle Maritime Academy, a 40-year-old institution that trains workers for marine careers plying the Puget Sound waters and beyond.
For the students who make it through the rigors of the academy’s one-year technical programs, grads often start out with salaries of $55,000 to $60,000, Ellis says. In 2013, the academy will open a new facility, which will allow class sizes to increase to 21 from 18.
Not to be forgotten amid the emphasis on high-tech jobs in the region is Seattle’s long history as a manufacturing base. “We have an unbelievably diverse economy,” says Steve Johnson, director of the Seattle Office of Economic Development. “Not many people realize we have a working steel plant here, Nucor Steel, that pays employees $50,000 a year to start and has not laid off anyone for 30 years.”
No story about local jobs would be complete without a nod to Boeing, which is poised for a ramp-up in plane orders for the 777 and the workhorse 737. This will translate to a need for line workers this year, says Boeing spokesman Stephen Davis, who adds that roughly 500 jobs were open on the Boeing site in mid-December.
For many of these established industries, one major concern of employers -- and a huge opportunity for younger job seekers -- is the growing percentage of the work force that is nearing retirement age. Ellis estimates that perhaps a third of the marine-industry work force is nearing retirement. Johnson says that of the 300 employees currently at Nucor, about half are expected to retire within 10 years.
To plan ahead for the expected demographic staff churn, the Workforce Development Council (WDC) of Seattle-King County is using $15 million in federal stimulus money to focus its job-placement efforts on providing vouchers to cross-train the 95,000 people out of work in King County.
“Even in the depths of this recession, we had success in finding jobs for displaced people in new roles,” says WDC’s communications manager Margret Graham.
WDC’s goal is to set up job seekers with knowledge that can be applied across a wide spectrum of jobs. “We don’t just look at industrial sectors, we look at occupations and skills,” says Marlena Sessions, CEO of WDC. IT, project management and accounting work, for example, are in-demand skills that can be transferred to virtually any job sector, she says.
For long-suffering job seekers who may not be convinced that better days are ahead for 2011, Sessions has these parting thoughts: “We’re here to get people trained or retrained and back to work. We’re getting out of this recession one job at a time.”
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