Anne Knowles
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

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February 24, 2013
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Employers battle spot shortages of workers

Despite record unemployment in the Silver State, a handful of diverse jobs remain difficult to fill in Northern Nevada. Information technology workers, accounting and finance professionals, computer numerical control (CNC) machine operators and registered nurses and other medical personnel are all in short supply, according to area employers and staffing services.

The reasons for the shortages appear to be as wide-ranging as the job titles, from simple skills deficits and training programs that can't keep up with demand to employers who may overestimate their leverage in tighter segments of the labor market.

"Two positions we are experiencing a lot of difficulty with are mid-to-high level IT and CNC machinists with specialized skills. Also, medical coding and billing and welders," said Tom Miller, director of staffing and recruiting services with Applied Staffing Solutions LLC in Reno. "Employers are asking for a combination of degrees and certification and hands-on experience, but we're pulling from a smaller pool that doesn't always support that combination. We may find an IT person with 20 years of experience who doesn't have a degree or certification."

The flip side of that, says Miller, are recent graduates of degree or certification programs who lack experience. They're educationally equipped, but businesses aren't eager to hire them for fear the new grads won't hit the ground running.

"Employers want experience," he says. "We're all doing more with less, with fewer employees, and companies don't have a lot of time left in the day to spend on training that person."

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation is trying to address that problem by assisting with the cost of in-house training for companies willing to hire currently unemployed workers.

The Silver State Works program pays an employer either $2,000 on the hiring of an unemployed worker or pays half the cost of short-term training.

"A lot of employers have found ways to find people they really like and do all the training themselves," says John Parle, business services manager with DETR's Employment Security Division in Reno. "And that happens across all sectors."

Subsidizing additional training also works for creating what Parle calls hybrid jobs. He and others say employers are often looking for a specific skill set - an engineer with sales experience, for example - which makes matching employee to employer even tougher.

"Traditionally, we have a hard time filling those hybrid jobs," says Parle. "A lot of companies, especially smaller ones, want a Jack-of-all-trades."

Employers here also may not be prepared to pay what is needed to attract some professions, especially ones that are in high demand everywhere.

"Clearly, there's a very low unemployment rate within finance," says Joy Phillips, branch manager for the Reno office of Robert Half International, a staffing firm specializing in finance and accounting positions.

Phillips says the unemployment rate, both nationally and locally, is 1.9 percent for financial analysts, 3.9 percent for financial managers and 4.6 percent for accountants. In comparison, the overall unemployment rate in Nevada is 10.2 percent, tied with Rhode Island for highest in the nation, and 9.6 percent in Reno.

Robert Half releases an annual report on wages as a guideline. The latest guide, released in October 2012, shows the average salaries for more than 50 corporate accounting jobs and more than 80 financial sector positions. The typical entry-level tax accountant at a mid-sized firm makes between $41,500 and $51,000 a year, for example, while a financial analyst manager at a small-sized firm is paid on average between $64,750 and $83,750, according to the report.

Then there are jobs where wages and benefits aren't the issue: there's just more demand than supply.

"CNC operators have been a chronic problem," says David Steiger, director of economic development and continuing education at Western Nevada College in Carson City. "From manufacturers in the area, the No. 1 issue is basic employability skills and CNC operators."

WNC offered a 16-week class for machine tool operators last spring that graduated 18 students who all were hired by employers they worked with during the second half of the program. The college plans to offer another CNC course in the fall.

A federal grant funds it and similar programs at Truckee Meadows Community College, Great Basin College and College of Southern Nevada, according to Linda Devon, the grant manager for the program at WNC. TMCC offers classes in graphics communications and for CNC machine operators, Great Basin offers certificates in diesel technology and electrical systems, and WNC has programs for automotive techs, welders and certified nursing assistants in addition to the class for CNC machine operators. A shortage of registered nurses is a long-standing problem in the area that predates the recent economic downturn.

"We're seeing steady demand for RNs for hospitals and doctor settings," says Steve Conine, president of AccuStaff, a staffing firm in Reno. "It's well-publicized that Nevada suffers from nursing shortage."

One solution might be to join the 24-state compact that allows nurses licensed in a compact state to practice in any of the other compact states. But legislation to do that was voted down by the Nevada Legislature in 2003, 2005 and 2011, according to Deborah Scott, executive director of the Nevada State Board of Nursing.

The problem, says Scott, is that Nevada requires nurses applying for a license to be fingerprinted. The compact did not until recently, and six of the states in the agreement still don't do fingerprinting.

In the meantime, Nevada does allow nursing applicants to get a temporary license while they wait for the fingerprint results and after they've been checked for prior convictions.

And there is a bill before the Legislature this session, says Scott, to allow nurse practitioners to open independent practices in the state as surrounding states allow. Currently, APNs are required to work with a physician, so many of the APNs who graduate from programs here leave the state, says Scott.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Feb 24, 2013 03:41AM Published Feb 24, 2013 03:40AM Copyright 2013 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.