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Continued: It's getting to be hard work finding work

  • Article by: H.J. CUMMINS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 10, 2008 - 10:28 AM

Paul Ries can't keep a job.

His last one ended a week ago when his employer, a Minneapolis medical device company, closed a factory. It was at least the sixth job since 2004 for Ries, of Shoreview, including temp work at a local refinery -- twice -- and at another medical device company. A "permanent" position at a chemical research company ended after six months when the firm folded.

Now Ries, a purchasing and supply chain manager with more than 30 years experience, will resume what has been his most steady gig in the past four years -- "that job hunting thing."

He expects a particularly long search. "The tea leaves don't look good," said Ries, who's married, with four grown children, and will be 65 in December.

People like Ries are a repeat business that is frustrating job placement agencies -- government and private -- across Minnesota. Counselors talk about more temp-to-hire placements that "never get around to the hire part," as one said. And they see more permanent jobs turn temporary, as struggling companies let go of their newest hires when hard times hit.

The job losses are hitting young and old, those with college degrees and experience and those just starting out, and show no sign of abating as the economy seems to head into recession.

Minnesota has lost 15,000 jobs in the past 12 months, with the biggest drops in just the last two months -- August and September. "The number was flat in July, and then we started slipping," said Oriane Casale, assistant research director at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Hence the revolving door at job agencies.

"Counselors see people coming back through their doors after they just left," said Louis Huether, a project manager at the Employment Action Center in St. Louis Park. "People get placed successfully in a job, then all of a sudden the company runs into problems and they get laid off, again. It's devastating for people if it's their second or third layoff; it's really hard luck when that happens."

A confluence of reasons

The Minnesota economy is feeling the same pain as the nation as a whole, as the housing market implodes, banks fail and business lending dries up.

The state is projecting a loss of 30,000 more jobs by this time next year, including 10,000 in manufacturing, 5,000 in construction, and 6,600 in professional and business services. That last group includes accountants, architects and engineers -- as well as the temporary jobs that have been the fallback for so many job seekers.

Already down nearly 2 percent from last year, temporary services are expected to drop another 4.2 percent -- 2,500 out of 57,900.

Typical of economic downturns, it is getting harder for many to even get their foot in the door. Huether estimated the average job search has stretched from six to eight months in the past year. And as in all buyers' markets, the shoppers are increasingly picky, said Jane Samargia, executive director of HIRED, a Minnesota agency with nearly 70 training and employment assistance programs. So any job candidates with the usual minuses -- short on education or experience, for example -- face tough odds.

That's what Tim Madden is finding. At 19, and a spring high school graduate, Madden wants to start a career as a cook. A pal of his who graduated a year earlier found a cooking job, but Madden, of Brooklyn Park, has had no luck. "I've applied everywhere, and I do the follow-up call and everything," he said.

But the difficulty staying hired is the new and most depressing development.

Dan Murphy, 58, of New Hope, is looking for his fifth job in four years. As a packaging engineer, Murphy designed containers at a manufacturer in Wisconsin for 11 years until 2005, when the company started moving the plant to China.

He was hired by another Wisconsin manufacturer in November 2005. But when a large account fell through, the company laid him off the next April. Sales jobs at two Minneapolis companies, one a manufacturer and the other a packaging supplies company, both lasted only a matter of months as business fell off at both places.

Tough choices

Like Murphy, Theresa Baugh has circled through the job market several times. Baugh moved to the Twin Cities in 2001, with her husband, Patrick, four children and one on the way. Both had spent years in the Army, and Theresa took a job with a local defense contractor while Patrick worked for another defense contractor. Patrick's job has been stable, but Theresa's ended in a year and a half.

With a master's degree and experience as an operations manager for a motor pool, Theresa launched a job search that ended only when she took a year's government assignment to Qatar in 2004, leaving her family behind. She finally landed a position at a small information technology (IT) consulting firm in Minneapolis this past January. But business slowed, and she was one of three laid off in September.

"My salary was really helping out, paying off a few bills and saving some money," Theresa said. "But when my job started slowing down, when I wasn't as busy, I started to worry. I had restless nights. I knew it wouldn't be long before they told me they had to let me go."

Now Theresa is considering a temporary job with a defense contractor in New Jersey, after a call from a friend there.

"I would leave my family once again, and it would be heartbreaking," she said. "We really like Minnesota, but unfortunately I haven't had a whole lot of luck finding a job here."

H.J. Cummins • 612-673-4671

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