Current job seekers can have their pick, vets told at Aurora employment expo

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AURORA | With more jobs than job seekers, employers at an Aurora job fair last week seemed willing to slap their logo on just about anything — pens or even chapstick — if they thought it would help them stand out.

“It’s a buyer’s market. There’s a lot of jobs to choose from,” said Jack Luke, senior recruitment specialist at FedEx, one of several companies looking for new hires last week at a Military and Veteran Employment Expo at the Community College of Aurora.

According to the employers at the expo, applicants seem to be seeking more than just a good paying job. They are comparing all of their options and being more particular in deciding a best overall plan.

That lines up with a report last week that showed U.S. employers posted more open positions in February, but the number of people getting hired and the number quitting jobs fell. The overall figures suggest that the job market remains healthy, although it has yet to take off during the early stages of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose 2.1 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted 5.7 million. While more employers are seeking workers, hiring fell 2 percent compared to January to 5.3 million. Job openings have increased 3.2 percent over the past 12 months.

Locally, experts say with the unemployment rate below the 3-percent mark, companies are struggling to fill many positions.

Right now, there are “too many jobs, too few people,” said Patrick Holwell, a workforce economist for the Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Development Board.

“Demand is outstripping supply because of the economic growth that the entire region is experiencing,” he said.

And companies aren’t just working hard to entice new hires, Howell said, they are also focusing increasingly on retaining the workers they have. Sometimes that means higher wages, other times it means retraining or other opportunities for employees to beef up their skill set.

If a job doesn’t require a college degree, Howell said local employers take on average 37 days to fill an opening. If a degree is required, they are looking at more than 50 days.

According to the Labor department report, more than 2.5 million people quit their jobs in February, but that was a sharp 19.6 percent decline from January. This may be a sign that workers have mixed confidence about the economy, since workers typically quit either when they have another job, or are optimistic they can find one.

An increased pace of resignations can also boosts wages, because most people quit for a new job at higher pay. It also indicates that employers may be recruiting workers from other jobs by offering bigger paychecks.

The government said last week that employers added a net total of 98,000 jobs in March. But on average over the past three months, employers have added 178,000 jobs a month — an average that economists say is closer to the underlying trend. The unemployment rate fell two-tenths to 4.5 percent.

Those figures are net gains after layoffs, quits and retirements are subtracted from overall hiring.

Tuesday’s data come from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS. They are more detailed and provide a fuller view of the job market than the monthly jobs report.

At the job fair last week, Nancy Murphy, senior technical lead recruiter of local provider of IT services, ISYS, said that for a company like hers, the current climate creates a more competitive structure.

“People are looking for better benefits, better job opportunities, longevity. They are looking for a golden carrot that we can dangle in front of them,” she said.

One of the few job seekers wore a nice suit and made a point to talk to each employer as he walked around the room. David Medina, an Air Force veteran who traveled from Castle Rock, has only been looking for a job for two weeks. Medina said he was mainly at the job fair to brush up on interview skills and make connections.

“I’ve made good contacts, something I can follow up and maybe other opportunities will arrive somewhere else,” Medina said.

Although Medina was mostly looking to network, he still had a standard of what he expects when landing a good job. Medina came from a corporate finance background and expects the same standard from whatever job he chooses in the future.

Companies like FedEx make employee benefits a higher priority. FedEx offers jobs in low to high skill sets with benefits, health care for part-time employees, tuition reimbursement and even discounted cell phone coverage. According to Luke, younger job seekers enjoy the smaller perks like the cell phone payment, but did not care as much for things like health care.

Murphy had a similar opinion, noting that ISYS was more likely to hire middle-aged people over younger employees in their 20s because the younger applicants seemed to only care about the money.

“They are all about the money. They don’t care about the 401K. Pension plan? No. It’s OK, they have bills to pay and a lot of college loans, I’m sure,” Murphy said.

Gregory Berger, a 60-year-old job seeker at the Expo, had a different approach to how he chose the job he wanted. Berger comes from a marketing and sales background in banking and has been searching for a job for the past six months.  He said that his main goal is to find a job with career opportunity and a good culture.

“Pay and benefits come along with it too, but basically (it’s about) the culture and the opportunity for a higher position,” Berger said.