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Optimism up over job outlook in Newton
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Hiring is on the rise in Newton County, and local staffing companies say they're optimistic that trend could continue for the rest of 2011.

Unemployment in Newton County declined for the third straight month in March to 11.7 percent, reaching its lowest point since May 2010. Every surrounding county and the metro region as a whole have also seen continued improvement.

Leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation and utilities drove growth regionally, said Mark Watson, a state labor market analyst. Beth Herman, a spokesperson for Manpower Staffing, a global staffing company with an office in Conyers, said all sectors have seen growth in 2011 except for government and construction.

Local firm Apollo Staffing has employed 275 workers since Jan. 1, has an additional 80 positions open for electricians, sheet metal and HVAC workers and stock room associates and is expecting 200 more openings in the following months.

"I do not feel that the local economy will drop mid-year. If anything, I feel we will have a strong year," said General Manager Jamie Younce.

Apollo Staffing has been partnering with the local chamber of commerce and local high schools and technical colleges in an effort to better prepare students for the job opportunities available. Companies want to hire, but there is a lack of qualified talent left on the job market.

"The biggest trend I see locally is a struggle to find strong talent. Companies are not hiring the same people they hired before," said Herman with Manpower Staffing. "What they're saying to us is these are not the same jobs. Workers have to multitask and be multi-purposed. They're looking for multipliers, talented people who can come in and grow and innovate."

Based on its survey of 30,000 human resource directors in the U.S., Manpower is predicting that companies will increase employment by 10 percent in the second quarter, although much of the growth is expected to be seasonally driven.

While the numbers sound strong, the U.S. has some of the weakest job prospects in the Americas region. The U.S.'s official unemployment rate is at 10.4 percent, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' most inclusive rate, taking into account temporary and forced part-time workers, puts unemployment at 17 percent.

Herman said the distribution and manufacturing base in Newton and Rockdale counties took a big hit in 2008 and 2009 and aren't likely to return to previous peak hiring levels for many years if ever.

However, the companies have been steadily hiring and would hire more workers if the job base was available. Even positions like forklift operator are requiring basic computer skills and the ability to help see the bigger picture in a company.

"Employers want to hire. A lot have expected business to pick up and hiring hasn't kept pace, but they are still right on the cusp of getting ready to ramp up," said Robyn Chapman, a regional branch manager for Manpower. "Already in the first two quarters, companies have shown that a warm body is just not acceptable. When things were good, companies were willing to do with less."

At a Friday business forum, Chapman said companies talked about the need for basic skills like reading, writing, arithmetic and computer skills and "softer skills" like the ability to work in a team and solve problems.

"Job seekers need to keep active," Herman said. "Clients are asking, ‘What have you been doing?'
"Relearning, re-skilling and up-skilling are more important than they've been in the last six years in this country. It's important to have an enormous toolbox of skills."

While companies are demanding more, they are also offering more, including increased retention of temporary, or "variable,"workers.

Even if hiring doesn't increase as much as expected, the currently employed can take solace in the fact experts don't expect any more large layoffs.

"We're a whole lot better than 2009 and we continue to show jobs being added in 2011," Herman said.