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Big game hunt

Pat Patera

Rising unemployment stats mean staffing agencies are fielding applications from a growing number of highly skilled professionals.

Emily Ellison, northern Nevada regional manager at Hire Dynamics, says the agency now sees many applicants who wouldn’t have considered temporary jobs in the past. They hold higher degrees and include human relations professionals, managers, and some with master’s degrees in business.

Most managers would like to stay in their field but will take a lower level position in their field. Meanwhile, Ellison says, “People with bachelor degrees are taking light industrial and manufacturing work.”

Employment agency staffers sometimes are overwhelmed.

“With so many people out of work, we spend a lot of time interviewing people,” says Todd Boardman, an account executive at Express Employment Professionals.

The Reno center of Nevada JobConnect saw 6,300 job seekers in January while the Sparks office processed 4,800. “The staff goes home exhausted,” says Center Manager Kathy Holbrook.

Brenda Harris, staffing manager at Applied Staffing Solutions, says the firm’s direct-hire group can’t keep up with the resumes. And even in her division, temporary staffing and temp-to-hire, she’s inundated with former controllers, accountants, and all manner of professionals from the now fallow real estate fields.

Meanwhile Gary MacDonald, the firm’s direct-hire manager, says, “I’m seeing people I wouldn’t expect to see. People who have been on the job a long time and done a good job.”

And just as applicants’ backgrounds span the industries, so do their attitudes.

“Each person handles this as they would any other situation: some are shocked, others discouraged, or even excited about new opportunities opening,” MacDonald says.

Even the much-vaunted “no-collar” workers the technology professionals now go begging.

“Demand for consultants has dropped 80 percent,” says Kenneth Wener, chief operating officer at Technology Professionals Exchange. It serves Fortune 500 companies nationwide from its Reno office.

“Demand for full time dropped significantly. And project work has dried up nationwide.”

Meanwhile, with thousands of names of available workers already in the Tech Pro X database, Wener receives a weekly multitude of emails from those looking for work.

Out-of-work top executives are among those scanning the job postings at the Nevada JobConnect center in Reno.

But salary expectations pose a challenge to placing people at that level, says Holbrook.

“They’ll say, ‘I’ve been with this company for 20 years, making $93,000 a year. It’s kind of a shock for those people; they hadn’t planned on this. Right now there’s just no jobs. Our job orders are down 75 percent.”

The downturn in construction brought a flood of skilled workers into private employment agencies, where they hope to get a job to keep bread on the table.

“They say, I’ve never seen it like this. I need to take whatever kind of job I can get to pay the bills. But they can’t make what they once did,” says Boardman.

Manufacturing followed construction down the tubes, partly because many manufacturing companies produce building materials.

But all is not doom and gloom.

“We’re still getting orders for support positions, clerical and light industrial,” says Harris. And few industries such as mining and alternative energy continue to hire. At JobConnect, Holbrook still gets orders for a few warehouse jobs, maintenance work and call centers.

But those positions may be temporary.

Christy Clark, branch manager at the Westaff office in Carson City says, “A few warehouses are talking about additional help because they don’t want to hire permanent people.”

Professionals, even those with advanced degrees, may now have a shot at those jobs, says Ellison.

In past years, 80 percent the firm’s requests came from companies that wanted to hire a temporary worker who later would join the employer’s regular staff. But now the job orders are just short term.

“Before, employers wouldn’t want professionals for temp-to-hire jobs because they know they won’t stick. When it was long term they didn’t want that. Now they don’t specify,” Ellison says.

Storm clouds have been gathering for well over two years.

Boardman saw a change at the end of 2006 as Express Employment got more requests from employers to fill short-term labor positions.

By last summer, Holbrook says, troubles in the employment market were firmly rooted.

“There were no jobs for summer students because they’d all been taken by older workers,” she says.

Clark says seasonal jobs didn’t materialize during the holidays and the number of job seekers has risen sharply.

“We’re seeing so many people,” she says. “They’re just trying to find a job anywhere.”

Ellison says, “Everyone’s work ethic has changed given this economy. People are hanging onto jobs they would have turned their noses up at before.”

JobConnect’s Holbrook says, “Some say, ‘I’ve got to hold out for what I’m used to.’ Others are so desperate they’ll take anything at this point.”

However, says MacDonald, “If companies are looking to fill positions, now is the time. You couldn’t find a better time to find a great person.”