Business

How can I make a living without driving to Seattle? Report offers some hope.

Jonathan Ramirez, a student at Mount Tahoma, tests out the suction power of a Vactor truck at the Pierce County Career Day at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup last fall. More than 2,500 students from Pierce and Thurston county schools attended the event, geared toward promoting career paths such as construction, utilities, transportation and the trades, which pay well and don’t require the debt burdens of a four-year college degree.
Jonathan Ramirez, a student at Mount Tahoma, tests out the suction power of a Vactor truck at the Pierce County Career Day at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup last fall. More than 2,500 students from Pierce and Thurston county schools attended the event, geared toward promoting career paths such as construction, utilities, transportation and the trades, which pay well and don’t require the debt burdens of a four-year college degree. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Let’s say you are looking for work and live in Pierce County.

What jobs are hot now, what sectors should you be considering and can you make a living here without commuting to Seattle, as nearly half our county’s workforce does now?

Some answers may be found in a new report released earlier this year from WorkForce Central, which works to increase access to services for local job seekers, workers and businesses.

On top of that, continuing education opportunities in the area and chances to network also can be worth your time to explore.

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

The report breaks down gains and losses in both industry sectors and occupational groups.

For clarity, think of industry sectors as segments of the economy that contain similar types of companies (construction for example), whereas occupational groups are sets of jobs or careers within those sectors.

Here are the winners and losers in Pierce County:

▪ Health care practitioners experienced the lowest level of unemployment of any major occupation group in the county at 1.8 percent.

▪ Health care/social assistance (including personal care aides; childcare workers; preschool teachers, social and human service assistants among others) was the largest industry sector in the county, employing more than 55,000 people in 2017.

▪ The next largest sectors were retail trade and educational services (including janitors and cleaners, secretaries and administrative assistants, bus drivers and office clerks, among other jobs).

▪ The sectors with highest average wages per worker? Utilities, at nearly $80,000. Public administration was next ($76,662), followed by finance and insurance ($73,118).

▪ The sectors projected for strongest growth this year in the county: health care/social assistance, and to a lesser degree, retail trade and educational services.

▪ Those industries projected to reduce numbers of jobs: manufacturing and information — a wide definition including telecommunications-equipment installers and repairers, customer-service representatives, software developers, sales representatives, web developers, computer-systems analysts and other computer and systems-related jobs.

▪ Also projected to shrink: mining/quarrying/oil and gas extraction.

▪ The largest local major occupation group in the county is office and administrative support, with, more than 45,000 workers, followed by sales and related occupations (defined as pretty much any type of sales job including sales supervisors, telemarketers, real estate brokers and agents, demonstrators and product promoters and street vendors) and food prep and serving related occupations.

▪ Among occupation groups that paid the highest wages locally on average per worker were management ($113,500), legal ($96,200), and computer and math ($88,800).

COST OF LIVING

Salaries are an important consideration at any time but maybe now more than ever.

Pierce County’s cost of living is 6.4 percent higher than the national average; an annual average local salary of $48,604 has the purchasing power of $45,680.

Still, it’s no all bad, said Christian Caple, communications director for WorkForce Central.

“The biggest positive I see from the data is the average annual wage increase of 2.9 percent per worker during the previous four quarters,” Caple said via email. “Pierce County’s average annual salary still lags behind the rest of the state and nation, but it’s good news that it is on the rise.”

Annual average wages for third quarter 2017 were $48,604, compared with a national average of $54,666.

The report noted that median annual household income here ($61,468) is closing in on that of the state ($62,848).

MAKING THE LEAP

So how do you know when it’s time for change or retraining, even if your industry seems stable?

“Now more than ever, if you’re an employee, you must take stock of what it is you do and what your core competencies are,” said Rovy Branon, vice provost for University of Washington Continuum College, in response to questions from The News Tribune after reviewing the report.

“If, in examining that, you determine automation can replace some or part of your job — perhaps not today, but in the next three to five years — then what’s next for you?” Branon said.

He said job seekers can give themselves a leg up by pursuing skills training and certifications.

Branon noted the more popular certificate programs, “in areas such as data science, data analytics, machine learning and project management, are becoming game changers if you have a college degree and need to transition to an adjacent field.”

For those hit with a surprise layoff, networking is essential not only for a sense of not feeling alone but also for finding that next job.

Rich Jasper helps run the Gig Harbor Jobs Program, which meets weekly at that city’s public library.

At a recent meeting, about a dozen people were in attendance, getting tips on how to network and to find “connectors” in the community who can assist in growing your own personal network.

On average, most of those who participate attend to four to six of the weekly meetings before moving on or getting hired, Jasper noted after the meeting via email in response to follow-up questions.

“Our general rule is that for every $10,000 of income, expect one month of job search. So, if one is seeking a position for $80,000, then expect it to take eight months. Networking can accelerate the process,” he wrote.

And then there are those who haven’t even started on a career track or dropped out before graduating high school.

The WorkForce Central report noted that the rate of so-called “disconnected youth” in Pierce County is 3.3 percent. Those are people ages 16-19 who are not in school or have not graduated from high school and are either unemployed or not in the labor force.

“Engaging this disconnected population will be essential to the development of our workforce to meet employer needs,” Caple said. “This will involve promoting the value of apprenticeship and other career pathways that don't necessarily require a four-year degree.”

That is good advice for others as well.

Pierce County has a less-educated workforce (25.3 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher) than is reflected on a national level (31.8 percent), the report shows.

“I find that most people are surprised when they learn that only about 30 percent of U.S. adults have a bachelor’s degree,” Branon told The News Tribune. “Similarly, I imagine most people will be surprised to find that Pierce County’s percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree is shy of that.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, Branon had advice for those changing careers late in life.

“We’re seeing a shift to acknowledging a 60-year curriculum where workers need to see ongoing education and skills retooling as requisite to success throughout their now extended careers,” he said. “Showing that you are a lifelong learner can make a big difference to employers who might see a four-year degree from 30 years ago as irrelevant. We see a growing number of older workers keeping their resumé up-to-date with certificate programs.”

OPPORTUNITIES STILL IN PLAY

There’s also a bit of a paradox in the area’s shrinking industries: Even in periods of industry contraction, some will still be hiring.

“Even industries that are projected to contract will still have many, many jobs to fill, particularly due to the upcoming retirement cliff in many industries,” Caple noted.

He also said that the health care industry’s low unemployment rate (1.8 percent) and projected growth (2.0 percent according to the report) point to a hiring crisis.

“We already know how difficult it is for health care employers to find registered nurses, for example — but it is worth noting that demand for these occupations is only going to increase,” Caple said.

And, good news, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life chasing a degree to get your foot in the medical door.

“There are many well-paying occupations within the health care industry that can be entered without a four-year degree,” according to Caple.

Some examples he offered:

▪ Registered nurse: Median salary in Pierce County is $75,000, minimum education required is an associate degree or post-secondary award — “and this occupation remains in extremely high demand.”

▪ Dental hygienists: Median salary in Pierce County is $87,300, minimum education required is an associate degree.

▪ Magnetic resonance imaging technologists: Median salary in Pierce County is $79,000, minimum education required is an associate degree or post-secondary award.

▪ Diagnostic medical sonographers: Median salary in Pierce County is $82,600, minimum education required is an associate degree.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell

More resources

▪ WorkForce Central main site: http://workforce-central.org/ and podcast: https://soundcloud.com/workforcecentral

▪ WorkSource Washington: https://www.worksourcewa.com/

▪ Workforce Central’s Career Pathways exploration tool at workforce-central.org/pathways also can help you to learn more about median wages, post-secondary education requirements and more.

▪ Pierce County Library system’s Get Hired program: http://jbc.mypcls.org/

▪ University of Washington Continuum College offers a scholarship program to state residents for in-person and online certificate programs. According to Vice Provost Rovy Branon, this assistance aims to help those who struggle to afford continuing education.

▪ UW Tacoma Professional Development Center: http://bit.ly/2EGg2vt

<bullet>Gig Harbor Jobs Program meets weekly on Mondays, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Public Library. More information is on its Facebook page (search for “Gig Harbor Jobs Program”).

  Comments