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Employment picture improves in Commonwealth

Date: 5/7/2012

May 7, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — The employment picture is beginning to show signs of improvement for job seekers in Western Massachusetts, according to Rexene Picard, executive director of FutureWorks Career Center in Springfield.

"We've actually seen a 15 percent increase in individuals finding work in the last month," Picard said, adding the current trend was "a very positive indicator" and one that mirrored employment gains on the state and local levels in the past few months. According to figures provided by FutureWorks, a total of 419 individuals found jobs through their agency in March at an average hourly wage of $13.08.

In contrast, during March 2011, 365 individuals were hired through FutureWorks at an average wage of $12.77 per hour.

Those same March 2012 figures — the most current data available when Picard spoke with Reminder Publications — also showed a 9 percent increase in employer job postings for the Greater Springfield area.

"This is just from the companies using [FutureWorks]," she noted.

Those jobs, she said, were primarily in the fields of healthcare and social assistance, which showed a 16 percent increase in open positions, and administrative support and waste management, which showed a 14 percent increase.

Manufacturing, which Picard noted comprises "17 percent of the total industry for Western Massachusetts," also posted a 12 percent uptick in hiring.

"[Manufacturing] is very strong for Western Mass.," Picard said. "We actually saw 65 people that got hired in manufacturing in the month of March."

Other areas showing strong hiring in recent months were warehouse businesses and transportation companies.

"Places like C & S [Wholesale Grocers] are continually looking for employees," she said.

The one stumbling block for Western Massachusetts jobseekers, Picard noted, is a lack of training for many of the positions local employers are seeking to fill.

"It's what we're hearing in all areas," Picard said of the persistent skills gap. She said thanks to grant money provided through the Workforce Investment Act, local community colleges, such as Springfield Technical Community College, are now offering a series of Workforce Development courses and certifications to streamline the training process and get more individuals back to work.

"It's not moving quickly enough for the people we see in the unemployment lines," Picard said of the new training initiatives, "but it's a positive trend."

Looking toward the summer months, Picard said she does see some potential bumps in what continues to be a tight, albeit improving job market.

"There are concerns about the number of youths that need [summer] jobs [and these jobseekers] getting squeezed out by older, displaced workers, who are taking the jobs that used to go to youths," Picard said.

She said there will be some resources available to help young jobseekers this summer, including an upcoming job fair in June, where FutureWorks expects to host "25 to 30" employers looking to hire workers.

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