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Job-seekers must adjust expectations, employers say

In construction, there are plenty of jobs for those willing to work from bottom
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Travis Christian is the business manager for Ashland’s Adroit Construction, which is building One West Main in downtown Medford. Christian says job opportunities exist for trained workers who are willing to start at an entry level and work their way up.Bob Pennell
 Posted: 2:00 AM December 24, 2013

While employers nationwide struggle to find workers with the specialized skills they need, businesses in the Rogue Valley say on-the-job training and applicants who are willing to start low and work their way up are the key to filling jobs.

"Regardless of the industry or the skill set, the majority of employers are going to need someone in-house a minimum of 120 days before they are up to speed and proficient in any job," said Richard Ryan, founder and chief executive at Hunter Communications, which installed much of the fiber lines in Southern Oregon.

"The final grooming that takes place, once you are employed, goes beyond education."

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Many of the industries showing double-digit job growth since 2009 — logging/mining, manufacturing and health care — require either specialized skills or certification after months or years of training. Retail, one of the largest job categories in the region, requires less expertise, but offers less compensation and fewer benefits. Somewhere in the middle is construction, a fluid industry for which training locally is adequate, but the expectations of applicants are often off the mark, employers say.

"Rogue Community College does an excellent job of providing the necessary hard skills, how to read a blueprint, draw a straight line and so forth," said Travis Christian, business manager at Adroit Construction and frequent member of workforce development panels. "We're not forced to go outside the area to fill positions.

"If there is one place where training falls short, it's setting unreasonable expectations for where they are going to start," Christian said. "When they leave RCC, they are not going to step into a situation to where they are running a multimillion-dollar company.

"But as long as they are willing to start at a certain level, there are enough jobs. Even with a two-year certificate, you may be starting at the lowest rung, but if you are willing to work hard, there is enough opportunity."

Another area in which applicants' expectations don't match the reality of the job market is pay. Southern Oregon long has been a decidedly cheaper labor market than the Bay Area, Portland and the Puget Sound.

Displaced workers who have changed careers and locations won't easily get hired at a comparable pay grade.

"Most people don't want to take a step back," Christian said. "Starting over is not a fun idea, but sometimes it's necessary."

Prying away top talent from the technical hubs can be difficult, especially since Intel has set such a high bar for compensation, said Ron Fox, executive director for Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.

"The demand for highly skilled technical engineering types in San Jose, Seattle or even Portland can price some of our companies out of the market," he said. "There is such a great demand in those areas for highly skilled, experienced and well-educated electrical engineers."

Another element small-tech companies have to contend with when recruiting to Southern Oregon is what is known as the "trailing spouse syndrome," Fox said. Applicants may be willing to move, but their highly skilled spouses can't find jobs commensurate (spelling corrected) with their skills.

A relatively high jobless rate and a mobile society conspire against higher wages locally.

"Ultimately, it's a glut of workforce," Christian said. "There are some moral issues there. You have to look at the successful companies in the valley and see they have made efforts to pay a good living wage."

Adroit enlists outside agencies to audit operations and make sure the company pays its staff appropriate wages, he said. "And that translates into good projects."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.


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