MANATEE — Jobs are scarce and unemployment is soaring.
The nation had a record-low 2.4 million job openings in July, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That number falls far short of the 14.9 million job seekers nationwide in August.
In this economy, a job opening has become like a contest entry. Hundreds are applying for the chance to win. Except the prize is far greater than electronics or a cruise, it’s income.
In Manatee County, the job market is flooded with applicants. The county had a record-high unemployment rate of 12.2 percent through July. That’s 17,724 people who need a job, according to state labor statistics.
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So to find that all except one of Manatee County’s top 10 employers are hiring, is shocking even to economist Henry Fishkind.
“It’s encouraging and surprising,” said Fishkind, principal of economic and financial consulting firm Fishkind & Associates, Inc., based in Orlando.
From the Manatee County Economic Development Council’s list of the county’s top 10 public and private employers, we found at least 100 jobs in health care, government and retail. Some are full-time; others are temporary and seasonal.
And applicants will find lots of competition.
Manatee school district
Manatee County schools employs 7,000, according to the EDC, and has 26 positions to fill.
Those positions include openings for teachers in which the salary starts at $38,517 and support positions such as custodial, food service and administrative.
Starting pay for support positions range from $9.55 an hour for a food service employee to $14.23 an hour for a licensed practical nurse.
Becky Wells, director of human resources for the Manatee County school district, said the open positions are drawing an overwhelming response from job seekers.
“The whole economy is supply and demand, and we are swamped daily with applicants coming in looking for work,” Wells said. “They’ll take any kind of work. We’re in pretty desperate times.”
Openings for support staff draw the most applications. Wells said the district received 60 qualified applicants for a secretary position it has available.
“That’s just 60 qualified,” she said.
Job openings at the county have been scarce of late due to budget cuts. The county had just seven positions available as of Friday for the following departments: utilities, public works, parks and recreation, neighborhood services, financial management and natural resources.
Starting salary ranged from $11.50 an hour for a grounds keeper to $55,203 for an impact fee program manager.
Employment Manager Carol Laudicina said the county has received 50 to 100 applications for each position.
“There is tremendous response to every position being advertised, which is indicative of the unemployment rate,” Laudicina said.
So how does a job seeker stand to gain an edge when applying?
“Be very thorough when completing your employment application,” Laudicina said. “Provide detailed experience for every question.”
The Bradenton-based retailer employs 1,500 in Manatee County. While its outlet stores are full staffed, Bealls department stores soon will be hiring for the holidays, said spokesman Bill Webster.
“We will begin staffing up in late October, primarily hiring cashiers, sales floor associates and gift wrappers at entry-level wages,” he said.
Webster didn’t disclose how many employees Bealls plans to hire this holiday season but said the jobs will be based at stores located at Manatee Avenue West and State Road 70 in Bradenton and Beneva and Clark roads in Sarasota.
Manatee Memorial Hospital
Health care is gaining jobs in Florida among major industries. Over the past year, the sector added 9,400 jobs primarily in nursing and residential care facilities, according to state labor statistics.
So it comes as no surprise that today, 23 new personnel will start work at Manatee Memorial, which has another 25 positions open.
New employees to start Monday mainly include clinical care positions, and those still up for hire mostly include skilled health care positions such as therapists, nurses and medical technologists.
“It’s very specialized positions we have, and those specialized positions are difficult to fill,” said Sheree Threewits, director of human resources at Manatee Memorial Hospital. “We have seen an increase in applicants applying for jobs. In a month, our online system receives about 800 applications.”
The Bradenton juice maker is the sole employer among Manatee County’s top 10 that is not hiring.
The plant on 13th Avenue East has seen two rounds of layoffs since October 2008. In October, the plant cut 40 positions and in March eliminated 50-60 positions.
“Like many businesses in these economic times, we are not hiring at this time,” said Karen Droz, human resources official for Tropicana.
Blake Medical Center
Like Manatee Memorial, Blake Medical Center’s hiring is all primarily clinical care positions.
Blake is hiring for 17 positions to add to its staff of 1,156.
All of the vacancies are specialized clinical care positions that include nurses, therapists and technicians with salaries starting at $24 an hour.
Manatee sheriff’s office
A $1.6 million federal stimulus grant will allow the sheriff’s department to hire for nine new positions this year.
Of those nine, three have been filled, said Brian Schnering, director of human resources.
The grant is allowing the sheriff’s department to add four detectives to its homicide unit, four positions to target gang activity, and one position to handle cases of fraud.
Law enforcement positions start at $39,689.
“Obviously, in these economic times, things have slowed down in hiring,” said Dave Bristow, spokesman for the sheriff’s department.
Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the number of job applications is higher than ever. But in Manatee County, Publix only has a select number of vacancies for skilled positions that include baker, cake decorator and meat cutter.
Patten wouldn’t disclose the number of skilled positions that are up for hire. These positions can pay up to $25,000 a year depending on experience and hours worked.
The manufacturer of powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters has 13 vacancies to add to its staff of 670.
The company is hiring for a direct response marketing manager, call center specialists, client services specialists, and for professionals in accounting and case management, said Joyce Boyle, director of human resources. Boyle would not disclose pay scales.
“The inevitable economic recovery, coupled with a very high number of well-qualified candidates, makes recruiting the best talent available our No. 1 priority,” Boyle said.
City of Bradenton
Job seekers will find openings are limited at the city, which has gone through budget cuts and layoffs.
According to cityof bradenton.com, the city’s only openings are for a police officer, a firefighter and a dispatcher.
Those positions range in pay from $12.58 an hour for the dispatcher to $38,000 for a police officer.