With all of the dramatic news about plant closings and layoffs, it’s easy to forget that the Wichita-area economy added jobs in 2011 and probably will again this year.
There are nearly 5,000 job listings in the Wichita area posted on the state’s inclusive online job listing KansasWorks.
But even though the economy seems to be looking up slightly, it pays to look for the right job.
Ron Thomas was at the Wichita Workforce Center on Friday, looking for work. He was laid off as a cook two years ago and again in October. His unemployment benefits ran out, and he’s surviving on food stamps and a generous landlord.
“The number of jobs is up,” he said, “but there are so many people looking.”
The hottest jobs of 2012 will look a lot like earlier lists, with a lot of health care and accounting jobs, but they also include some lower-paying, lower-skill jobs.
So here are some of the hottest jobs of the year, from lists and suggestions from the Kansas Department of Labor, the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas and Wichita State University.
• Nurses – This category has been a big gainer for more than a decade.
It includes licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, nurses with bachelor’s degrees and nurses with supervisory experience. The work is at a wide variety of facilities, from hospitals to long-term care homes.
The factors driving this year’s demand remain the same as before the recession: an aging population needing greater medical care at the same time a high percentage of nurses are nearing retirement age, said Inayat Noormohmad, director of labor information services for the Kansas Department of Labor, which does both a two-year and a 10-year forecast.
“I really don’t see that slowing down,” he said. “It’s the same as the 10-year forecast.”
Other health care positions include nursing aides and home health aides.
• Truck drivers – The general increase in manufacturing in Wichita in 2011 and the expectation for that to continue are spurring the need for truck drivers.
Cory Sell, executive vice president of Metro Xpress, which typically carries industrial supplies, parts and equipment cross country, said he could hire between five and 10 drivers right now. He expects to need more drivers this year because the company is carrying more freight.
“It’s good, but we’re definitely not setting any records,” he said.
• Retail sales clerks and their supervisors – Retailers have cut their stores and workforces sharply since the recession, but the fall and winter have seen an uptick in business, especially for retailers aimed at higher-income customers, said Jeremy Hill, director of WSU’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research. There are the usual post-Christmas layoffs, but overall the prospects for these jobs are improving.
Other hot jobs those groups have mentioned include: customer service reps; laborers; accountants and auditors; stock clerks; waitresses; cashiers; industrial engineers; and welders.
Employers are telling the Workforce Alliance that some manufacturing workers are back in demand, but not in all categories, said Kim Cronister, the group’s public information officer. The most in-demand manufacturing jobs are: composite fabricator, CNC tool operator, non-destructive testing/inspection and painting technicians, she said.
But companies are insisting that those workers already know how to do the jobs, she said.
“The next generation has to be trained already; that’s all there is to it,” she said. “Those entry-level jobs for somebody who just walks in are coming to an end.”
Jobs that weren’t listed are oilfield-related jobs, either with a drilling company or an oilfield services company. Several large out-of-state oil companies are ramping up an aggressive drilling program in southern Kansas. They are bringing many of the workers and contractors with them, but will hire some work locally.
Tom Ward, CEO of SandRidge Energy, said the drilling by his company and others will create 25,000 jobs directly and 100,000 indirectly in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma.
Noormohmad said he is skeptical, for now, because the oil industry generally has been shedding jobs for decades and the prospects seem uncertain.
Jennifer Dowling was also at the Workforce Center scrolling through the listings. She had worked most of her life in carnivals and fairs, mastering the art of erecting and dismantling booths quickly. But it’s been 19 months since she’s had work and now she’s looking for food service work.
“With the economy the way it is, and now Boeing leaving Wichita, it’s going to be tough to find work,” she said.