Scott LaPorte sees it every day.
“The unemployment out there is so intense that we are inundated by folks with college degrees that can’t find jobs for more than $8 an hour,” said LaPorte, vice president and partner with Trojan Labor and Acrux Staffing in Augusta.
LaPorte, who has been in the staffing business for 19 years, said the labor market remains tight even as economic conditions are easing.
Increasingly, employers are demanding more experience, more skills and a higher degree of knowledge for jobs in almost every field.
“They are not taking anybody with marginal histories,” he said. “Also, a lot of businesses are still looking to cut back on staff. And so they go to more expensive equipment, and that requires more training.”
As technology becomes more integrated at all levels, technical training is often required, and some jobs are harder to fill because applicants with the skill and experience are not there.
“We’re pretty typical of the nationwide shortage of skilled workers,” said Randy Hatcher, president of MAU Inc., which specializes in providing workers to area industry.
Hatcher said manufacturers need people with highly technical skills. “You can’t just have somebody who understands how to use a wrench,” her said. “It used to be just the skill that was important, and now it is the skills and the education.”
Maintenance technicians, instrumentation technicians and even qualified forklift drivers are harder to find these days.
“What’s so hard about being a forklift driver? You have to read and operate some of the most advanced inventory systems in the world,” Hatcher said. “Now you are not just in charge of moving materials; you are making decisions.”
Hatcher said a higher skill level often means better compensation. Forklift drivers with computer skills usually get $2 to $3 per hour more than those without.
While the state’s unemployment rate still hovers at about 8 percent, experts say the demand for technically skilled workers will continue to grow as the economy improves.
The Georgia Department of Labor projects that almost every type of manufacturing will be among the top 20 sectors of job growth in the Augusta area this year. The largest area of job growth will be in health care, another sector that requires highly developed technical skills and special certifications.
Augusta is expected to add more than 500 jobs at hospitals this year, according to figures supplied by the state.
Lee Powell, director of Talent Acquisition at Georgia Regents University, said Augusta has a deep pool of experienced workers for most medical jobs, but not all.
“We have plenty of candidates locally for most positions,” said Powell. “Where the challenge is when you go into specialization.”
Powell said physical and occupational therapy is a good example. Therapists need special skills and certifications to work with certain types of patients, such as those with cancer or wounds that are difficult to heal.
“When you are dealing with these kinds of specialties, the physical demands are pretty tough,” he said. “It almost takes a special kind of person to want to work with this type of wound-care conditions. These are not well patients.”
Powell also mentioned operating room nurses, who must have on-the-job experience. Those jobs can’t be filled with nurses coming straight out of college programs.
“Unless they spend a couple of summers doing internships to gain that experience, they can’t do the job,” he said.
Internships and specialized education are becoming more important for companies that require specific skills and technical knowledge. Companies often turn to technical schools and universities to build programs and relationships for future needs.
Donna Wendt, director of Career Services at Augusta Technical College, said the school offers training and degrees in more than 100 specialties. Many of those programs were designed in cooperation with local industries to provide training specific for fields where the number of available jobs is growing.
Wendt said two good examples are the chemical technology and the nuclear engineer technology programs.
“Each of those the college worked with employers to design programs to meet in-demand occupations and to meet employers’ needs,” she said. “There is a lot of focus on higher-level math and science skills. Also, the training that is provided is hands-on. It’s not just classroom lectures. Students receive hands-on skill building.”
Suzette Snyder, vice president of Human Resources with E-Z-Go, said it generally doesn’t have trouble filling the many technically demanding jobs at the company’s golf car manufacturing plant because it works closely with technical schools to ensure that candidates with the proper skills will be graduating each year.
Two years ago, the company also started a summer internship program, joining with universities across the South to train engineers. The program has grown from fewer than 10 students two years ago to 29 interns this summer.
“There are some key areas where we know that America as a whole is being stressed in filling technical jobs and engineering,” Snyder said. “This program will give us a pool of talent to pull from when they graduate. The goal is to bring them back every year.”