Unemployment rate drop leaves employers scrambling for workers
In the not too distant past, Pace Analytical Services LLC did not have to scramble to find lab technicians for its analytical laboratory in Hempfield.
But, with Westmoreland County’s unemployment rate down to 4.5 percent in December and the number of jobless at 8,300, those times have changed.
“I never had trouble finding candidates until December,” Valerie Lambert, Pace’s regional administrative business manager, said Wednesday at the jobs fair at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in Hempfield. Finding candidates with a science background is challenging, which is why Lambert was at her first Westmoreland Assistants Native Talent Job and Career Expo.
In the midst of the recession 10 years ago, the county’s jobless rate stood at 6.5 percent and 13,200 could not find work. When job fairs were held at such spacious settings as the Westmoreland County Community College gymnasium, the unemployed were plentiful, but the jobs were scarce.
Melanie Fritz, human resource assistant for Westmoreland Community Action in Greensburg, noticed fewer people seeking information from employers offering a chance at a job.
“It was two, three times busier last year,” Fritz said.
She attributed the drop in attendance to a combination of snowy weather and the fact there are fewer jobless in the county.
On the other side of the hiring table was Keith Zalenski of Greensburg, who earned a degree in electrical and computer engineering technologies from Penn State Behrend in May. He was looking for leads to jobs in his field as he works at an area fast food restaurant to earn some money.
“What could I lose,” by walking around the room filled with employers seeking workers? asked Zalenski.
Excela Health was seeking nurses as well as other positions.
The Greensburg-based health system sends recruiters to job fairs, on-site career events and they speak to prospective nursing candidates inside the classroom, said Beth Neffield, an Excela talent acquisition specialist.
Social media also is a recruiting tool, said Julie Muir, also an Excela talent acquisition specialist.
“The candidates were more prevalent five or six years ago,” Neffield said.
Not only is Excela offering signing bonuses to prospective nurses, the health system also is dangling bonuses for certain other specialized positions, Neffield said.
While Uniontown Hospital received some inquiries about the availability of jobs, Bob Roberts, nursing recruiter, said they are more successful in landing nursing candidates at career fairs at colleges.
To compete with the other health systems, Roberts said Uniontown Hospital, which has about 1,200 employees, also is offering signing bonuses for its registered nurses.
Those who were seeking a job as a machinist were able to talk to several different companies. Those machine shops “are having a real difficult time” finding experienced workers, said Dennis Gilbert, associate director and career consultant at Saint Vincent College Career Center.
Machine shops like Aggressive Grinding Service Inc. along Route 982 in Unity are challenged to find skilled candidates, said Nicole Luttner, human resources manager for Aggressive Grinding Service.
“That is why were are looking toward the local schools and career and technology centers to offer more,” in terms of training for those trade jobs, Luttner said. And they are jobs that pay hourly rates of between $18 and $24, plus benefits, Luttner said.
The marketplace, however, is so much better than during the recession a decade ago, when the manufacturing companies were cutting their workforce, Luttner said.
“In the last two years, we’ve grown 100 percent,” Luttner said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .