Job hunting? These skills are in demand

Posted July 5, 2012
Updated July 6, 2012

— When Doug White was laid off last September – after nearly 20 years in the printing business – he says he felt useless. He considered looking for another job in the industry but was worried it would be outsourced and shipped overseas again.

That fear of rejection inspired White to change careers and find a job that wanted him as badly as he wanted it. At age 44, he enrolled in Wake Technical Community College to become a plumber – a trade that is in high demand, according to ManpowerGroup’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey.

The survey found that 49 percent of U.S. employers are having trouble filling critical positions, in large part to a mismatch between the skills job seekers have and the skills employers want.

The top 10 jobs American employers are struggling to fill are:

1) Skilled trades workers
2) Engineers
3) IT staff
4) Sales representatives
5) Accounting and finance staff
6) Drivers
7) Mechanics
8) Nurses
9) Machinists/machine operators
10) Teachers

The latest state jobs report shows nearly 440,000 North Carolinians, or about 9.4 percent, were unemployed in May – one of the highest rates in the country. The national unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in May.

For White, and many others, returning to school and changing careers was a safe way to stay off the jobless list.

“I’m hoping once I’m done here (at Wake Tech), I’m hoping to go out in the field and get back to work,” White said.

He is not alone. During the past four semesters, Wake Tech has had an average of 6,000 students on waiting lists, hoping to get into classes that are filled to capacity. President Stephen Scott says the school has experienced more than 31 percent growth over the past four years while having to deal with budget cuts of 25 percent per student.

"It makes it very difficult to have the technology that we need in order to train people for the skills that are available today," he said. "Community colleges provide that specialized opportunity for learning ... We constantly have people coming back to us, looking for some narrow, very specialized (program).”

Wake Tech's welding instructor says, out of 18 graduates last year, 16 were immediately hired. Hoping for long-term job security, Eddie Carter signed up for the plumbing program.

“(It’s) something I’ve never done before, but I heard you can make pretty decent money, and it’s a trade and it’s something that can’t be outsourced. It’s something people will always need,” Carter said.

The 33-year-old father of one says he managed restaurants for 12 years before doing “a complete 180” and changing careers.

“If I can figure out a way to be really good at plumbing, I’ll always be around and people will always need me. That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Carter said. “Hopefully it will pay off dividends in the future, and I think it will.”

'Mr. Employer, you need to be involved'

As president of the North Carolina Chamber, Lew Ebert says he is constantly told that companies are looking to hire but can't find qualified workers, especially among the state's manufacturers.

“No matter where I go, this issue comes up,” Ebert said. “Sixty-nine percent are having that same problem and view the inability to fill those jobs as something that’s slowing their ability to grow, compete.”

Ebert says he believes the root of the problem starts early and that “there’s a K-12 fix.”

Employers seeking these in-demand skills Employers seeking these in-demand skills

Although the statewide high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 77.9 percent in 2011, according to the state Department of Public Instruction, Ebert says it needs to be even higher.

The business community would also like to see a stronger focus on basic reading, math and vocational skills so “young people are coming out of high school ready to learn,” according to Ebert.

To help bridge the skills gap, Scott says Wake Tech is looking to partner with area companies to develop programs that target specific needs. They have already partnered with Novartis, John Deere, WakeMed, DukeRaleigh and NetApp.

“Mr. Employer, you need to be involved more with the educational institutions and tell us what we need to do in order to meet your needs,” Scott said. "Businesses have to step up, and we in education have to change."

Despite Wake Tech’s efforts, Manpower’s report found that, “as educational systems around the world have focused on four-year university education, this has resulted in the decline of vocational/technical programs – both curricula and enrollments have eroded over the past several decades.”

'It was time for a change'

Manpower researchers interviewed more than 38,000 employers in 41 countries and territories, including in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Employers in the Americas said the top reasons they have difficulty filling jobs are:

1) Lack of available applicants/no applicants – 36 percent
2) Lack of technical competencies – 36 percent
3) Lack of experience – 31 percent
4) Looking for more pay than is offered – 19 percent
5) Lack of employability skills – 15 percent
6) Candidate unwilling to work part-time/contingent roles – 8 percent
7) Overqualified candidates – 6 percent

Finding the right candidates to fill job vacancies is becoming increasingly difficult, according to employers in the Americas. This year, 41 percent reported this kind of difficulty, up from 37 percent in 2011 and 34 percent in 2010, the report found.

Eric Tewksbury says he hopes his drastic career change will help him fill one of those vacancies. The 44-year-old spent more than 20 years in the residential construction industry, working for himself, before deciding to switch paths and become a nurse.

“The real estate recession pretty much shut down new construction for quite a while, and it’s been a struggle since it happened,” Tewksbury said. “I was getting older. I knew at some point I was going to have to get a new career ... it was time for a change.”

He applied to Wake Tech’s nursing program, which takes about three years to get an associate’s degree.

“I’m trying to gain the skills for the demands that’s out there right now,” he said. “From what I understand, the job prospects are still good for nursing.”

Tewksbury graduates in December and said he hopes to soon breathe a big sigh of relief and get a job offer.

“That’s what I’m really looking forward to,” he said.

As Tewksbury and other skilled workers enter the job force, they will have an advantage over other job seekers, according to Manpower’s report.

“Individuals with in-demand skills will become more selective as they evaluate their employment options, compelling companies to develop better recruitment and retention strategies,” according to the report.


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  • fsolomon Jul 12, 2012

    I agree with caveman93. We used to be a country that valued people who were willing to work from the bottom to the top. Experience meant something then. Now, we value a piece of paper from a university that doesn't actually teach you to DO anything. Not that I have anything against college or degrees. They are very useful depending on your field. But a lot of the kids who are graduating are being paired up with someone who has the experience but not the education and being trained on the job. I see it happen all the time and it's a shame.

  • atozca Jul 11, 2012

    I call bs. I have a BA in Language, Writing and Editing with a minor in Marketing, 16 years working in the professional world plus 16 as a stay at home mom and business partner, ran a construction company with my husband, coupled with 12 years of homeschooling with 1 through college and 2 attending.

    We have been out of work for almost 4 years. I am told that my degree us too old and my work experience is out dated. Upon looking to return to college, I have been told that I need to take the SAT again.... my degree is too old. I asked the University if they felt that they didn't educate me properly the first time?

    We are willing to work and have done anything and everything, including cleaning up and hauling off others trash just to earn monies.

    Corporations claim they can't fill jobs here so the gov't will let them go over seas or bring in visa workers. It is all about the money.

  • starvingdog Jul 6, 2012

    da toy maker - I think you and I are mostly in agreement. Not really a matter of 'easier' in my opinion. The difference is REASONING vs. mere scholarship. Scholarship in and of itself may be hard and require great effort. But the math and science require a different sort of thinking. (At least until you get into some of the more esoteric physics and mathematical theory that seems even more opinionated than the sociology prof!)

  • nowon_yuno Jul 6, 2012

    Kinda a self fulfilling problem there, isn't it?! If no one will hire you without experience, it's kinda hard to gain experience.

    Ya know how I solved that problem when I had it? I joined the military. Every job I have had since then I got because I was a veteran with electronics training in the real world. One place hired me just because they knew I would show up everyday

  • nowon_yuno Jul 6, 2012

    There have been a few stories here and there about new graduates entering the job force who said they would not take a job if they could not take personal phone calls and check their Facebook page while at work. Apparently "Generation E(ntitlement) are so well trained and well off they can pick and choose what they will or won't do.

  • ndzapruder Jul 6, 2012

    "They have 0 jobs in engineering within a 100 mile radius."

    Yeah, the deficit of engineers is a national phenomenon, but "engineering" is broader in scope than most realize. Try that search again with biochemistry. What they do is on the molecular level, but it's still tantamount to engineering.

  • katiebridgette Jul 6, 2012

    So I checked out openings with Manpower in the their #2 hardest to fill spot, engineering.

    They have 0 jobs in engineering within a 100 mile radius.

    So much for "local" information.

  • Da Toy Maker Jul 6, 2012


    I'm not arguing the merit of "hard Science". In fact, I truly believe that all kids should be proficient in Math, Physics, Chemistry when they graduate from College.

    Personally, I don't believe non-science & non-engineering majors are any easier.

  • Caveman93 Jul 6, 2012

    to mpheels:

    I was in banking and finance for 18+ years and now I manage more than 6 DB's with 500+ college degree, basic CompTIA certifications and my employer trained me for and additional 2 months. Lower your standards a bit's NOT rocket science. Find someone who can learn and understands relational databases and has a good work ethic.

  • ginny159 Jul 6, 2012

    mpheels--is training out of the question? I can understand if you need a person right now, this minute, but can training an individual with basic skills in your field not be an option?