Where the Jobs Are Up North

REGION – Even though Michigan's economic picture is still grim, there are a few Traverse City companies that – like the old U.S. Marines recruiting line – are looking for a few good workers.

The American Proficiency Institute, Altus Brands and Munson Medical Center are among the employers having a hard time filling specific vacancies.

"We're seeing a wide range of professional and trade needs," says Janie McNabb, Director of Program Development and Community Relations at the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. "Specifically we see needs for welders, CNC programmers and people in IT. These positions require a high level of technical training."

Information Technology is where the American Proficiency Institute (API), an international testing company based in Traverse City, plans to add at least two new people, according to company president Dan Edson.

"These positions are harder to fill than other areas in our company because of the skill sets and experience we require. We're looking for someone with a bachelor's or associate degree, knowledge of programming languages and scripting, and experience in an office environment."

API will look to fill these positions locally but has expanded previous searches to the Grand Rapids area.

"I don't think API is unique – there are other companies looking for IT professionals too," says Edson. "We are in an environment where the demand for IT staff exceeds the supply. These people can command nice starting salaries and have good growth potential as technology advances in the IT area."

Brian Breneman is the chief financial officer for Altus Brands, which makes hearing protection gear for hunters, competitive shooters and law enforcement. The company plans on hiring one or two new workers this year. They added one worker in 2011, says Breneman, and it wasn't easy.

"In our opinion, it was not because it's hard to find people who are trained properly and it wasn't because people are getting hired by other businesses," says Breneman. "Our experience is that people are not willing to come to work because their unemployment benefits have been extended so long that there is not a lot of motivation."

According to Breneman, since 2008, wages have decreased across the board, and it's not temporary, but rather, a new reality. Unfortunately, the decline in wages means that jobs available now pay less than jobs people used to have.

"Today's wages are closer to what people receive in unemployment benefits," he says. "So, as long as they are receiving [for a long period of time] what they could earn working, there is no motivation. Many people have adjusted their lives to the new economics as well, so they are living within what they receive … Overall, this isn't the feel-good answer to your question, but it's certainly been our experience."

Munson Medical Center hires around 500 new employees each year, mostly as a result of normal attrition – employees retiring, relocating to another area, taking a new job,vaccording to Sue Peters, Vice president for human resources.

"During 2011, there has been a slight increase in the number of employees, mostly in the clinical areas," says Peters. "We expect no real change in 2012."

"We will be gearing up for changes that will take place in the medical coding area, and anticipate additional resources to support clinical documentation and coding. Recruiting experienced critical-care nurses, operating-room clinicians, and highly specialized positions have been our recruitment challenges."

The Munson Healthcare website lists dozens of open positions, including clinical jobs such as full and part-time nursing positions, audiologist and several types of technicians. There are also several non-clinical openings, including billing representatives, human resources, accountant, security and day care teacher.

According to the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce's 2012 Economic Outlook, prepared by the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, in 2011 there were an estimated 101,125 employees in the five-county region. That's up 3,272 from 2010 levels.

The population of the region is 168,661 individuals, representing about 1.7 percent of the state's population. And it's estimated that there are 8,510 unemployed workers in the region.

Chamber President Doug Luciani wrote the report's analysis of the regional economy, noting that a decrease in the region's unemployment rate is deceiving.

"Yes, unemployment moved from 11.5 percent to 9 percent, but the number of unemployed workers stayed relatively the same," he says. "What changed was the available work force. Many unemployed workers left the region. In spite of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, the region has a work force shortage for the jobs growing fastest. Workers in demand are those skilled in areas including health care, engineering, welding, machining, and jobs that require extraordinary communications or technical skills. On the 'low-skill' end, the hospitality industry relied on foreign workers to fill hundreds of seasonal and year-round positions."

McNabb says that jobseekers must also be aware of the need for appropriate workplace behavior, including showing up on time, working hard and not spending too much time on the cell phone with personal business. Many job applicants also need help with basic math competency and computer literacy, she notes.

To help bring together job seekers and employers, the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments has created a new position. As of last month, Jaclyn Sanborn is agency's the new Business Connections Manager.

"We've always provided services to employers through Michigan Works," explains Sanborn, who has been with NWMCOG for several years. "But now the economy has changed so much … Now there's even a higher need for these services. As we identify needs, I'll coordinate assistance and help respond to those needs."

Sanborn says she plans to work with Northwestern Michigan College to offer specialized training when needed.

The state of Michigan's efforts to aid job hunters include the Michigan Works! program. Through its website at michworks.org, the Michigan Talent Bank links job seekers with employers looking for workers.

Job seekers can search more than 38,000 new job openings monthly and post a resume so more than 55,000 employers can find it. Employers can sign up to search more than 600,000 resumes for the ideal candidate and post openings. It's free for all users. BN