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Tightening job market confronts employers with new challenge

By Traci Turner


Local employers are faced with a new obstacle: too many job openings and not enough workers to fill them.

Due to a strengthening labor market, the number of people hunting for jobs is dwindling.

Genesee County's unemployment rate has dropped to 4.5 percent in June according to Department of Labor statistics. The county hasn't experienced an unemployment rate this low since October 2007.

With the unemployment rate at its lowest figure in eight years, positions are becoming harder to fill. Many local employers have increased their hiring since the beginning of the year. More than 300 job openings in the Batavia area are currently posted on the New York State job bank Web site. Some positions have been up for a couple weeks while others have been posted for months. 

Help wanted signs have even made a comeback as a way for employers to find workers.

"Employers put the help wanted sign out with the hope to attract a person who may not be Internet savvy, or a friend that will pass the information on to a person they know who is looking for a job," said Scott Gage, director of the Genesee County Job Development Center. "As the available talent pool gets smaller and smaller, you are going to see more of those help wanted signs because it is a low technology way to get workers."

Employers typically hire to fill entry-level positions and young emerging workers are their main source for these types of jobs.

Melissa Landers, human resource generalist for Batavia Downs Gaming and Racetrack, has been hiring a large amount young people to fill food and beverage positions for the racing season. Landers said it's hard to find workers because Batavia Downs is open every day of the year and people don't like to work overnights and holidays.

For jobs that require prior training or experience, Gage has recently seen the pool of available workers shrink drastically.

"Employers are having a hard time finding workers because there is such competition among themselves, especially for skilled workers," Gage said.

According to Gage, one of the hardest positions to fill is maintenance mechanics in the food-production industry. With the increased number of food-production companies in the county, mechanics that have experience repairing food-processing equipment are in high demand. The competition among employers has even caused wage rates to rise for the position. 

One reason for the shortage lies in the historical shift from an emphasis on trade skill jobs to jobs that require a college degree. Consequently, there is a smaller pool of workers who have vocational training. 

Gage frequently gets job orders from employers that are looking for people with vocational skills and students who have graduated from Genesee Valley Educational Partnership are strong candidates for these jobs.

"Emerging workers with vocational training have a leg up in the workforce," Gage said. "They are getting wage rates similar to students who have completed two years of college."

While employers look for applicants with training and similar work experiences, it's also important to find an applicant with a strong work ethic and positive attitude.

Shelley Falitico, director of Genesee ARC, looks for applicants that are compassionate and open to learning different approaches for working with people who have disabilities.

Due to a new two-year contract the ARC has signed with area schools, she has recently been hiring bus drivers to transport children with disabilities.

The positions Falitico finds most challenging to fill are physical therapists and speech pathologists. Competition is high for these positions and many qualified applicants relocate to bigger cities to work, Falitico said.

Colleen Flynn, community relations director at United Memorial Medical Center, said the hopsital will search a little longer to find an applicant who understands the importance of customer service with patients and knows how to work well in a team environment.

"It's important that they have the skills necessary for the position, but it's really about the attitude and the right kind of personality to round out the team," Flynn said.

With the recent growth at UMMC, the hospital has been having a difficult time filling specialized positions such as clinical laboratory technologists. According to Flynn, college students are not majoring in that field as much and there is a significant amount of competition among employers. Other positions such as clinical analysts and registered nurse specialities are also hard to fill because qualified applicants often live in larger cities.

"In our region, it's much harder to recruit people to come to a rural county than if you live in a highly populated area like Buffalo or Rochester," Flynn said. "When you are the only hospital in the county, you have to work harder to attract workers because they typically are not already here."

One of the Career Center's goals is to make the county more attractive to families and students graduating from BOCES and Genesee Community College. The center is also working with the Genesee County Business Education Alliance to develop highly skilled jobs and promote occupations where there are shortages. 

In the future, Gage foresees the employer base and job market in county continuing to grow.

"Based on what I'm seeing and local committees who are continuing to develop the job market in Genesee County, I think we are well positioned to bring new opportunities to the area," Gage said. "The county is becoming really competitive with other areas in the state and even nationwide."

A cornucopia of jobs available at career center, director says

By Howard B. Owens

Scott Gage, director of the Genesee County Job Development Center, has a simple message for anybody looking for a job or a better job: come on down.

There are currently 400 job openings listed with the career center and not nearly enough applicants to fill them, Gage said.

"If anybody is interested in work, definitely come down and see us at the career center, because there are a lot of openings," Gage said.

Yes, many of the jobs are entry-level production jobs, but they're good paying jobs, Gage said. There's also a number of professional-level jobs available.

The recession-era fear people had about taking a stab at a new job at a chance for career advancement or higher pay has disappeared, Gage said. More people are looking to move up, which helps create openings for other workers and it's also the sign of a strong local job market.

"There are not a lot of job seekers coming through our doors," Gage said.

Bill by Ranzenhofer would reward employers who hire those getting jobless benefits

By Howard B. Owens

Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer (R-61) wants to give New York businesses that hire from the ranks of the unemployed a $3,000 tax credit.

Ranzenhofer announced his proposed legislation today in Batavia at the Genesee County Career Center on East Main Street.

"It's a win, win, win situation," Ranzehofer said. "It helps people who are looking for work. It's good for employers. But it's also good for the economy."

Under the proposal, New York businesses that hire a person currently drawing unemployment benefits will get a $3,000 tax break.

There are currently 300,000 people out of work, Ranzenhofer said, and among those drawing unemployment, they are getting checks averaging $314 per week. Razenhofer said his proposed tax credit will pay for itself in 10 weeks with cost savings on unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits can be drawn for two years.

Ranzenhofer also said that by putting more people back to work, those people will have more money to spend, generating more tax revenue for the state.

While the tax incentive itself may not spur some employers to hire -- challenged as they are by other expenses, from health insurance, taxes and the cost of equipment upgrades -- the tax credit may be just what it takes to get other businesses to add new positions.

"To do nothing and not give them this kind of incentive, when it doesn't cost us any money, is not a good thing," Ranzenhofer said.

While it would be better to lower the tax burden on New York businesses, Ranzenhofer said, "I don't see that happening this year."

Scott Gage, executive director of the jobs center, praised the legislation.

"This is going to be an opportunity for people who have retooled their skills during this economic downturn to be hired and maybe they would have got that opportunity if not for the resources created by this tax credit," Gage said.

At the Legislature: First impressions

By Philip Anselmo

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the Genesee County Legislature. It was not only my first visit, but the first session attended by the 4-H local government interns—check back with us this afternoon to hear more about that and hear their first impressions.

Before the meeting kicked off, I had a few minutes to chat with Legislator Charles Zambito. We talked about the upcoming county budget determinations and the worries over what will happen at the state level, since state funds make up such a huge portion of county funds. Zambito told me that this was not only a worry in Genesee County, but in counties all over the state. A minor budget cut at the state level becomes amplified for the counties, and some services and programs could face extinction if the cuts get severe. Nevertheless, he said, they will do their best to preserve.

Chairwoman Mary Pat Hancock spoke briefly about the recent meeting in Niagara Falls of the New York State Association of Counties. She was pleasantly surprised to see that so many folks could make it up to our neck of the woods. Many of those from downstate, it turned out, had never even been to the falls, let alone past the Hudson.

Hancock also spoke about the Genesee County Career Center, which lists jobs at all skill levels around the county. She mentioned a few last night for jobs such as machinist, office manager and nurse's aide. Right now, the Career Center posts its jobs on the America's Job Exchange site for New York, where you can search and apply for jobs all over the state.

This morning, I spoke with Jeanne Ianita at the Career Center, and we're going to see if The Batavian can host those job listings, as well. We'll let you know if that comes to pass.

As for the business portion of the meeting, all of the resolutions on the agenda were passed, including the approval of $15,000 for Mercy Flight for this past year's service. Mercy Flight has requested $20,000 for 2009.

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