Mid-level jobs squeezed in Minnesota economic forecastThe growing demand for engineers, nurses and medical technicians will intensify in the coming years. With the usual turnover, there will continue to be jobs for waitresses, retail sales clerks and janitors. But government jobs, mail carriers and paper mill workers? According to forecasts, not so much.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
The growing demand for engineers, nurses and medical technicians will intensify in the coming years. With the usual turnover, there will continue to be jobs for waitresses, retail sales clerks and janitors.
But government jobs, mail carriers and paper mill workers?
Not so much.
That’s part of the long-term job projections of the Minnesota Department of Economic Development for Northeastern Minnesota.
“The big story is there’s a lot of jobs at the top end and bottom end, but not a lot of jobs in the middle,” said Drew Digby, the region’s labor analyst for DEED. “There is a continuing squeeze for manufacturing and government jobs while classic middle class jobs, like teachers, will be harder and harder to get.”
The government and manufacturing sectors just aren’t seeing the new jobs they were seeing a while back, he said.
“Manufacturing had a little resurgence after the recession, but the numbers are below three to five years ago, and stagnant,” he said. “Numbers came back 10 percent above the recession’s low but are still below when the recession started.”
Manufacturing in Northeastern Minnesota is less than the statewide average, said Don Hoag, manager of Duluth Workforce Development. “We don’t make as much stuff here as we used to. That’s why it’s so great to see companies like Cirrus being here … and Kestrel getting going.”
Many of the fastest growing jobs, however, are low paying and hard work, jobs like personal care attendants, retail sales and tourism-related, Digby said. That includes the leisure and hospitality sector, which is expected to grow nearly 6 percent by 2019, the projections show.
They may be lower-paying jobs, but jobs like retail are pillars of the community, Hoag noted.
“You want to have high paying jobs to support a family, but we are a retail hub,” he said of Duluth. “And with more than 15,000 students in Duluth, it’s not bad to have retail when you have students looking for part-time jobs while going to school.”
While many jobs don’t require college or other post-secondary education, that will change, says Hoag, citing a study by Georgetown University looking at expected trends in Minnesota from 2008 to 2018.
By 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require post-secondary education and many will be fairly technical. Those with just high school educations will be far in the minority, he said.
“So this is a concern,” he said. “If Minnesotans don’t get this training, we won’t have the work force for the jobs.”
Health care boom
The job projections, covering 2009 to 2019, show major increases in the health care field from personal care attendants to doctors. That means lots of jobs in Duluth, where health care is the city’s biggest employer.
The growing demand for nurses was a big reason why Mandy Haburt chose to become a registered nurse, after being laid off from her human resources job. She will graduate in December from Lake Superior College with an associate’s degree in registered nursing, then hopes to continue on to a bachelor’s degree while working.
“It’s something that’s always going to be needed,” said Haburt, 32, of Duluth. “I kept hearing that with baby boomers retiring, there will be a huge demand for them. Basically when I graduate, there will be jobs, not necessarily openings right away in hospitals, but I can go into nursing homes or home health care. I can go in many different directions.”
With two small children, she welcomes the flexibility of shift work. But another big reason she is also going into nursing is to take care of people.
“People in the hospital are in a very vulnerable state,” she said. “I want to help their quality of life while in the hospital. Sometimes they need a caring and compassionate person by their side.”
The job numbers don’t tell the whole story of a rapidly changing health sector as technology and reform takes place.
“The question is how many health care jobs there will be since a plateau was reached this last year after years of growth,” Digby said.
While the need for nurses is strong, it’s increasingly hard for those starting out in their careers to find permanent positions, he said.
“They need to find experience in the first two years,” he said. “That’s also true for medical technicians as technology changes quickly. Those that move with change are OK, but others are being left behind.”
Keeping up with technology will continue to be the challenge not only for job seekers but those already employed. Even the best paying jobs — lawyers, doctors, engineers, computer systems and information technology jobs, top management — will require advanced training to keep up with changing technology, Hoag said.
Information technology, itself, will remain in demand, with jobs in every sector, the data shows.
“It’s definitely a hot area. It’s been hot for a while,” Digby said. “But it’s hard to advise people going into it. Job titles change fast. What you need to do in that field changes quickly.”
Lake Superior College is among the schools responding to a growing need for technicians who can program, monitor and fix automated systems which are becoming more pervasive, from elevators to industrial settings. Lake Superior College’s program takes two years.
With a projected 14 percent increase in jobs by 2019, engineers will continue to be in demand.
“Engineering is a good sector for us overall. It’s a really strong sector,” Digby said. “While people have specialties, some of the people that have done really well have cross-trained. That ability to train as the need arises keeps people with good employment prospects.”
That’s especially true with the mines, where engineers train in one area, then develop skills in another area, he said.
The mining sector, which has recovered from the recession, is projected to grow about 32 percent by 2019, adding nearly 1,000 jobs. Mesabi Range College has responded to the need with a two-year industrial mechanical technology program to prepare people for mining jobs.
Some occupations, like over-the-road truckers, will have thousands of job openings in Northeastern Minnesota in the next seven years, largely due to drivers leaving their jobs and that lifestyle.
A nationwide shortage of long-haul truck drivers is being felt in the Duluth area, a transportation hub. To fill that need, applicants with commercial driver’s licenses are in demand. The projections are for nearly 2,000 job openings for truck drivers in Northeastern Minnesota. All but about 100 of those jobs are expected to be replacing truckers who leave their jobs.
“It’s one of those jobs that changed a lot in the last 10 years, in how it’s paid and the relationship between drivers and companies,” Digby said. “In downtimes, jobs disappear. It’s a hard job, especially for those with families. Right now, we’re in a cycle where employers have trouble finding people.”
But, he said, if salaries were increased, companies wouldn’t have so much trouble finding drivers.
Utility lineworker is among the occupations where longtime workers in the region are expected to retire in waves in coming years. But at Allete, officials aren’t concerned, because several colleges in Minnesota have training programs that are turning out good candidates.
“We’ve been working with schools for 10 years preparing,” said Inez Wildwood, manager of talent acquisition and development for Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power and Superior Water Light and Power.
Two years ago, Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena, Minn., established a satellite campus in Baudette for an electrical lineworker technology program. The 10-month course takes up to 30 students year, Wildwood said.
At Allete, the wave of retirements started about three years ago, and they are well into replacing them, Wildwood said.
So as more lineworker jobs open up, Allete should have plenty of candidates to choose from, she said. About 100 lineworkers are employed at Minnesota Power and Superior Water Light and Power, with 30 to 35 percent turnover expected in the next five years. Other power companies in the region also will need to fill lineworker positions.
Besides lineworkers, utility companies will have to fill other utility jobs in the region because of upcoming retirements.
“We will have just as much need for electronic technicians, meter technicians and power plant operators,” she said. “They will have just as much turnover in the next five years.”
In response, local colleges have developed new programs to train people for these utility jobs, Wildwood said, noting such efforts at Lake Superior College and Fond du Lac College.
Under the radar
The projections don’t factor in the unexpected, like the possibility that emerged this year of the Twin Ports becoming a hub for aviation jobs.
AAR Aircraft Services announced in April it will move into the former Northwest Airlines aircraft maintenance base in Duluth. The Illinois-based aerospace company has begun the process of hiring managers for its new maintenance, repair and overhaul base. Hiring inspectors, airframe and power plant mechanics, sheet metal, avionics, interior specialists and other needed staff will follow. Officials say that up to 250 jobs, paying $30,000 to $80,000 annually, will be created in the next few years if the base reaches full capacity.
Meanwhile, Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth is recovering from the big hit it and the entire general aviation industry took during the recession and has restored some jobs that were eliminated during cutbacks. And in Superior, Kestrel Aircraft Co. has announced plans to build its manufacturing plant there, creating hundreds of jobs to build its turboprop plane.
All would boost business — and ultimately jobs — for local suppliers in the region that provide needed materials.