Albert Lea job market reflects U.S.

Published 10:07 am Friday, June 6, 2008

Many issues are plaguing the workforce in Albert Lea. Whether it’s few open positions, the unavailability of required skill sets or the rising gas prices limiting the number of people willing to commute, companies and prospective employees alike are facing difficulties.

“There are more people looking for work than there is work available,” said Bob Haas, area manager for Workforce Development Inc.

Haas estimated the unemployment level in Freeborn County to be close to 5 percent, which is similar to the state unemployment rate.

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However, there are a lot of people who have already used up their unemployment benefits, and once that happens they are no longer in the system and not counted toward the unemployment rate.

Nationally, some industries are experiencing more difficulty than others — such as auto plants and airlines — so they are having more layoffs. Haas said that is not the case in Albert Lea.

“The companies that are in our area are still holding their heads above water. They’re still doing OK,” he said. “We’re faring better than a lot of places are nationally, even though we are going through a sluggish time.”

One way to find available jobs is through a job fair, such as the Spring Job Fair sponsored by Workforce Development Inc. and Riverland Community College held Thursday at Skyline Plaza.

With the abundance of employers lining up at job fairs, “you can get a job much faster going to a job fair than you could in another setting,” Haas said.

And employers will find eligible hires more quickly, too.

Former Progress Castings employee Gary Nelson was at the job fair Thursday searching for a position closer to home.

Since he was laid off — along with nearly 70 other Progress Castings employees almost a year ago — Nelson has worked for a company in Owatonna. But with the rising gas prices, he said he’s sick of the commute.

“It eats up a lot of money just in gas,” he said.

Nelson isn’t alone. Staffing Consultant Janye Villarreal at Express Employment Professionals said the people she is placing in temporary jobs are no longer willing to travel to Mankato, Rochester or Owatonna because of gas prices.

The way the economy is today, Haas said, a lot of companies use temp agencies.

As of Thursday morning, Express Employment Professionals in Albert Lea had more than 600 active people in its database searching for work in Freeborn and Mower counties, said Villarreal.

“We’re very, very busy,” she said.

However, only 140 of the 600 people were working. Villarreal said she has seen an influx of people searching for jobs, but there are also many companies looking to fill positions.

“There’s always going to be a need for workers,” she said.

Nelson worked for Progress Castings for 34 years before he lost his job. Now, he said, he’s just looking for something to carry him a few more years until he can retire. Nelson already submitted a couple dozen applications.

“It doesn’t look good right now,” he said.

There are jobs out there, Nelson said, but he isn’t qualified for the openings.

Since the economy has slowed down, Haas said, employers are having problems filling skilled positions with appropriately trained people.

“It’s not that there aren’t openings in companies, the openings that are there are jobs that require specific kinds of skills,” he said.

Such positions available in Albert Lea are for machinists, skilled trade, welders, computer operators and manufacturing jobs, according to Haas. However, a lot of manufacturing jobs today moved away from heavy labor and have computerized machines available to do the work. So skilled laborers are needed to run the computerized machines — and are in demand, he said.

When Nelson lost his job at Progress Castings, he said he was trying to find a job close to the pay he was last receiving. But since he is having difficulty finding a job he is qualified for, he said he is going to have to take a pay cut.

“Hopefully something will come up,” Nelson said. “I haven’t given up yet.”