Information technology, nursing, trucking and retail sales are among the hottest local job sectors as Charlotte enters 2014, according to N.C. Department of Commerce data.
With unemployment rates declining, the economic uncertainty that hovered over the job scene in recent years is giving way to increasingly optimistic talk of more companies putting out help-wanted postings.
“Everybody’s got real high expectations for 2014,” said Michael Fletcher, a director with the Charlotte finance and accounting division of Robert Half, an international staffing and placement firm. “Each year over the past few years it’s gotten progressively better, and everybody’s feeling like 2014 might be the year when we finally get out of this thing and companies start hiring again.”
Digital technology companies have joined some of the region’s big traditional employers – Carolinas Healthcare System, Wells Fargo and Bank of America – among the firms doing the heaviest hiring during the three-month period ending Dec. 3, the most recent data available.
Experts say the diversity of hot jobs and active hirers reflect an increasingly balanced local economy that relies less on the banking sector than it did before the recession. Charlotte saw promising signs last year, outperforming the state and nation in job growth. State employment data released last month show the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill area picked up 28,400 jobs in the past year – the largest net employment increase in the state. That represented a 3.3 percent increase, also the largest in the state.
The Raleigh-Cary area had the second-largest net increase: 11,000 new jobs.
Experts expect the momentum to carry over into 2014. N.C. State University economist Michael Walden projects the Queen City’s unemployment rate will drop from around 7.7 percent now to 6.6 by the end of 2014.
Appliance-maker Electrolux, for instance, will be on a high-profile hiring spree. The company announced Dec. 20 that it will add more than 800 new jobs to its North American headquarters office in University Research Park.
“Charlotte’s a hot property right now,” said Steve Partridge, president of Charlotte Works, a public-private partnership that helps train workers for in-demand jobs. “You have a lot of people wanting to move in because of the quality of life and because of the job market.”
Strong demand for software developers
Job-posting data from The Conference Board for the three-month period ending Dec. 3 show some of the most active Charlotte-area employers include well-known tech firms such as IBM, but also less well-known ones such as Collabera, TEKsystems and Broadcom.
“We are growing our Charlotte office tremendously,” said Sundari Pai, a spokeswoman for Collabera, an international IT consulting and staffing firm based in New Jersey. “We have a lot of new clients coming in.”
The company serves Fortune 100 finance, telecommunications and energy firms, among others, she said, and its Charlotte office mirrors the firm’s national growth rate of at least 20 percent annually.
Data from The Conference Board, compiled by the N.C. Department of Commerce, show that five of the eight hottest jobs in the Charlotte area for the three-month period ending Dec. 3 were computer-related: systems analysts, Web developers, software developers, network and computer systems administrators and IT project managers.
Demand is especially high locally for developers skilled in Java and Microsoft .NET, according to a study by staffing firm Randstad Technologies. Many of its corporate clients in Charlotte are looking for IT workers with financial experience.
“The supply for qualified technical talent is very tight, especially for emerging technologies such as Hadoop, Python, big data and mobile development,” said Robert Conder, a Randstad managing director based in Charlotte.
That’s not to say computer fields are immune to job cuts.
After a restructuring and management change caused Dynisha Faust to be laid off in 2011, she didn’t give much thought to leaving the IT sector. The demand for such workers is so strong she feels sure she’ll find something else.
Still, seeking an extra edge in the job market, she secured help from Charlotte Works to go back to Central Piedmont Community College for an associate degree. She’s adding core Web technology skills to complement her MBA and her master’s in information systems.
“Everybody needs a presence on the Internet,” said Faust, who has also begun teaching computer classes at Central Piedmont and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. “Technology has become so woven into our lives. That’s why it’s hot.”
The only nontech posts on The Conference Board’s list of the eight hottest jobs in the Charlotte market as of Dec. 3 were registered nurses, truck drivers and retail salespeople.
High demand in those fields is expected to continue in 2014.
Some 85 to 90 percent of students at Carolinas Healthcare System’s Carolinas College of Health Sciences get job offers before they graduate or within six months, said Ellen Sheppard, president of the college.
Enrollment in area nursing schools soared during the recession, as laid-off workers sought shelter in a field seen as relatively safe from economic downturns. At the Carolinas College of Health Sciences, applications jumped significantly in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“It’s leveling off as the economy begins to recover,” Sheppard said, “but we still have a greater demand than we can fill.”
More truck drivers sought
The rebounding economy has made long-distance truck drivers one of the few blue-collar fields to post a robust comeback. The Commerce Department data for the three months prior to December show more than 1,700 job postings for truckers.
“The trucking companies are competing for recruits,” said Jon-Paul Jones, a Charlotte driver, in a recent telephone interview from Walton, Ky., where he’d stopped on his latest delivery trip. “I’ve got a few friends who drive with me who have four-year bachelor of science degrees and they’re out here driving trucks because they couldn’t find work.”
Jones figures the strong demand for drivers will continue next year, as the strengthening economy brings the need for more importing and exporting of goods. “At one time or another, everybody’s got to get something,” he said, “and a truck’s got to bring it.”
Despite the rosy overall outlook, unresolved questions remain for some parts of Charlotte’s employment picture.
Even though the big banks have some of the most job postings in recent months, they appear to be more focused on replacing existing workers than adding new ones.
Financial-sector jobs declined by 200 over the year, according to employment data released in early December by the N.C. Department of Commerce. (The category that includes banking jobs also includes insurance and real estate posts).
“We basically are holding steady” for 2014, said Josh Dunn, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, which employs 20,700 workers in the Charlotte region. He added that the company expects to do significant hiring for tellers, because it fills many of its internal openings from its teller ranks.
Asked whether Bank of America’s hiring would be up or down in 2014, spokesman Ferris Morrison said he didn’t have specifics to share. He said the company would continue hiring for banking center and other jobs.
An area of perhaps even greater concern locally has been the construction sector, which often helps fuel employment gains during economic recoveries by putting large numbers of blue-collar workers back on the job.
The uptick in the housing market in 2013 sparked increased demand for construction workers locally, but some homebuilders said they couldn’t find enough to hire because so many moved away during the recession.
And smaller construction companies have said they want to wait to see a more sustained period of economic strength before they hire more workers.
State data released last month shows the Charlotte area picked up 4,400 positions over the year in the job sector that includes construction. But that compares to 10,200 jobs picked up in professional and business services.
“In the spring (when) we see the housing market start to pick back up, that gives us gains in construction,” said Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo.
Job skills gap persists
That doesn’t, of course, mean everything’s set up perfectly for Charlotte’s jobs scene in 2014.
Vitner has said some of the drop in employment rates nationally has come because people dropped out of the workforce.
He pointed to national statistics showing that people age 55 and older comprise a bigger portion of the workforce today because they lost so much during the recession that they can’t afford to retire.
“It’s mainly young people – young men – that are dropping out of the workforce,” he said.
He added that companies are struggling to find skilled and motivated workers, especially in the state’s poorer counties, because of the ongoing mismatch between the increasingly tech-centric jobs available and the skills today’s workers bring to the table.
Not only are there fewer manufacturing jobs, but the ones available tend to be more technical and higher-paying than the textile, tobacco and furniture manufacturing jobs that once dominated the state’s job market.
For instance, when Central Piedmont and Charlotte Works compiled data on the 10 hottest jobs of 2013, manufacturing salespersons made the list. However, 72 percent of those job postings called for a college degree.
Truck driving was the only $60,000-plus-a-year position on the list that a high school graduate could reasonably hope to land.
Central Piedmont and other organizations try to fill the skills gap with specialized training programs designed to meet companies’ workforce needs. The school is working with 15 such customized training projects in Mecklenburg County, said Mary Vickers-Koch, dean of Business & Industry Learning for the college.
The school has trained some 2,200 workers for Siemens alone since September 2010, she added.
Frazier: 704-358-5145; @Ericfraz on Twitter
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