.

NJ Impact: Job-Seekers Weathering a Still-Tough Market

Crisis continues to impact white-collar and blue- collar workers alike.

  • Editor's Note: The following story was written by John Celock and includes additional reporting by Joseph M. Gerace, Edward Van Embden, MaryLynn Schiavi, Alan Neuhauser, and Michael Daigle of the Patch.com news network. Click the links throughout the story for more on the job market's impact on individual communities.

For every sign of growth, there's another of stagnation. For every encouraging statistic, another serves up a stark reminder—things might be getting better for New Jersey's job market, but not by much, and not for everyone.

At best, the outlook for the Garden State, and for the 9.3 percent of its workforce still jobless, is mixed. There's optimism, but it's of the cautious variety. An unsure job market has those in it looking for assistance, and support.

That's why on most Tuesday mornings, the Jim Cole Room in the  parish house in Westfield is filled with four generations of men and women, sitting on worn couches talking, sharing, encouraging each other, even sharing the occasional laugh. From 60-somethings sharing work-life experiences to 20-somethings explaining the intricacies of social media, they are all out of work and looking for ways to start—or continue—their careers.

The church’s  was founded in June 2009 in order to provide support to those who have been left unemployed. Neither religion nor residency have any bearing on membership in a group that was originally led by a retired corporate recruiter. Now the members, many of whom have been unemployed since it began, run the program.

One of the few weekly support groups for job-seekers in New Jersey, the first hour of the group’s two-hour meetings focuses on tips and sharing experiences from the job search front. The second hour is devoted to skill-based peer review, from resume reviews to conducting and critiquing mock-interview sessions.

All members share a supportive forum where no topic is too tough to broach. The out-of-work men and women talk openly about the stress of unemployment on their marriages and other relationships. They discuss ways to help young people convince employers that a lack of experience doesn't mean an inability to do the job, and how older  can handle an interviews with  who view them as threats.

The group has one unbreakable rule: those who get jobs have to provide donuts for a meeting.

“It seems every time that I am not there someone has gotten a job,” said the Rev. Mike Samson, the associate pastor of the Westfield Presbyterian Church. “We have had a fair amount of people get jobs in recent months.”

There are glimmers of hope, on the ground and in the numbers. The March unemployment report from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed New Jersey’s unemployment rate standing at 9.3-percent, a .1-percent increase from February. At the same time, the number of jobs in the state grew for the second month, by 4,600 positions statewide.

The Labor Department report showed that most of the job growth in March occurred in professional and business services, with the addition of 8,900 jobs. The state also saw 600 new jobs in other services, 400 in the information sector and 100 in the mining and logging industry. The public sector saw a total of 1,000 new jobs, with 1,600 jobs being added at in local, county and school government, while the state government lost 600 jobs.

Frank Wyckoff, owner and CEO of the Wyckoff Group of Eatontown, said he's personally confident in a recovery spearheaded by forward-thinking companies looking to beat the inevitable return.

"Progressively managed companies are starting to make the move now—companies are trying to get ahead of the curve," he said. "This year, the first quarter was a little soft, but still 10 to 15 percent better than the first quarter last year. We've seen mild hiring and some good energy in the marketplace."

Still, several industries lost jobs in the March report—manufacturing (2,800 lost); education and health services (1,300); trade, transportation and utilities (1,200); leisure and hospitality (800); and construction (300).

Overall, throughout the state, more jobs are available. But not all are professional positions with high pay. The Labor Department, in its Top 50 Occupational Listings of jobs in demand, outlines a need for 6,450 cashiers at an average of $9.55 an hour, and 1,790 stock clerks and order fillers, at $11.55. But it only lists a need for 590 computer system analysts at $43 an hour, and just 40 database managers at $39.20 an hour.

Unemployment Colorblind Between White and Blue

Many of those working with the unemployed in New Jersey are not surprised by the sometimes-discouraging numbers, noting that the state has been hit in terms of white-collar jobs.

“I'd have to say that, unfortunately, it seems to be across the board,” , a career coach who runs a career-networking group at the Scotch Plains Public Library. “The IT industry is still affected. That's number one. Number two, of course, in New Jersey, and especially central New Jersey, are pharmaceutical workers and, absolutely, financial workers. Around here, those are the industries most affected.” 

Mary Anne Anderson, the director of the one-stop career center for the Union County Department of Human Services, said she keeps seeing more and more white-collar workers coming in, spanning a variety of industries, a change that comes from the recession.

There's been in increase in the amount of middle-management professionals in the centers Anderson runs in Elizabeth and Plainfield, she said. Many want assistance getting educated for new positions, or even new career tracks.

“We’re getting a lot of requests from people who come in for truck driving,” she said. “It’s a short course, folks think they can start out with good money.”

Anderson said that many seasoned managers are trying to reinvent themselves as tech-savvy 21st-century workers. And while she's excited to see these longtime managers and executives embracing the need to change with the times, she's equally concerned that the changing marketplace is asking more from them. These highly skilled employees are being forced to interview for, and even accept, jobs that pay salaries that are significantly less than when they'd earned, she said.

Anderson said those who have lost blue-collar jobs have come in continuing to seek education vouchers and grants for local community colleges as part of their work to find new jobs. She said historically, those from the manufacturing sector have  come into her center the most.

In the Searching for Work group, some translate their skills into small businesses, using services such as Craigslist and community bulletin boards to advertise their trades.

Nation's Medicine Chest Sees Impact

New Jersey is regularly called the nation’s medicine chest. Across central New Jersey, dotting hillsides in Somerset County’s horse country and highways across Union, Middlesex and Mercer Counties are the campuses of pharmaceutical companies. While the sign across the Delaware River may say “Trenton Makes, the World Takes,” a motto that grew less and less needed as the manufacturing sector left the economically depressed capital city, Central New Jersey has picked up the motto from a drug perspective.

While debates may center on the fate of the pharmaceutical industry in terms of the national health care overhaul, the industry grapples daily with the impact of the economy. Workers deal with mergers and competition from a growing amount of generic drug companies that jump to market as patents expire.

According to a report released by outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas, the pharmaceutical industry lost more jobs in 2010 than any other private industry. The job cut report, released on Dec. 1, showed that the pharmaceutical companies lost 50,168 jobs in 2010. In 2009, the industry lost 61,109 jobs, coming in second to the retail industry in number of job cuts.

Bonnie Featherstone, a recruiter specializing in the pharmaceutical industry, said that is has been tougher for her to fill positions with companies across the tri-state area. When she started her company, Bonafide Staffing, in 2007 Featherstone found it easy to place candidates. She said that while downsizing was occurring, there were still positions for the two talent pools she dealt with – recent college grads and experienced workers looking for new challenges.

“People who are employed in drug development are more cautious about leaving their positions than ever,” Featherstone said of the current outlook in the industry. “They don’t know what’s out there; they’re holding on.”

Featherstone said when a new client who has been downsized from the pharmaceutical industry comes to her she immediately tells them not to expect the same salary as they had when they left the industry. But she did add that many of her clients are more interested in the work than the money.

“Most of our candidates are well educated in health sciences,” she said. “They are serious scientists. They are very interested in the work they are doing, work that can benefit humankind, rather than making the bucks.”

Wyckoff said that attitude would serve most job-seekers well. An employee with the right stuff will often get plucked out of a less-than-ideal desk job, and fast tracked for far greater things, he said.

"Right now you have to look for an opportunity to show people who you are, not how much you want to make," Wyckoff said. "A year later when everyone's just starting to get back into the job market you'll be at an advantage. "Nobody every got promoted on unemployment."

Governor Taps Lieutenant To Lead Job Creation

Around New Jersey, a trade group representing business owners said it is seeing more businesses hiring. The group is bullish about an overall economic uptick, praising the role of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on the economy.

“In New Jersey there seems to be an improvement in the business climate with the change put forward by this administration,” . “We can also see that there is an improvement in the economy with the lending of money. This is helping small business grow. We believe that small business is the place that will create the most jobs.”

Among Christie's moves lauded by Walsh include the creation of a "red tape review" task force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, which has been charged with reviewing the regulatory structure of state government. She also said the consolidation of many of the state’s business recruitment programs to the lieutenant governor’s office has been a benefit to business looking to come to New Jersey. Walsh is particularly pleased with Christie's plan to allow Mark Mauriello, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, to waive certain regulations to help facilitate business development.

Among Guadagno’s moves in taking on the economic development role has been to tour the state, conducting a  with local officials and business leaders. The agenda of her stops rarely changes; meetings with local officials on various issues are part of the day, along with a session with local business and community leaders, seeking input on taxes, regulations and what else the state can do for job growth. The sessions remain closed to the public with attendees being selected by the local community and receiving invitations from the lieutenant governor’s office.

While many of her travels in 2010 were to gain information to guide job growth, Guadagno has spent time in 2011 traveling to announce new jobs. This included a session earlier in April when  that Bayer Health Care will be consolidating 2500 employees from four Northeast locations in Morris County. Guadagno made the announcement the same day that in Hanover, , which was creating 400 new jobs following the federal government’s approval of a new drug to combat prostate cancer, that the company would be manufacturing.

. Morris County has long been a hub for economic growth. Leaving the urban center of Morristown and the classic downtown center communities of Madison and Chatham, the county features a mix of suburban sprawl highways and rolling hillsides. Close to New York and Newark, with train lines and major highways connecting the county to the city, Morris County has long marketed traits to corporate Realtors. Nestled between these rolling hillsides and on these traffic-clogged arteries are corporate office parks, ones that the county’s economic development agency sees more companies looking to occupy.

And still, thestate Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported that Morris County’s unemployment rate in February rose from 6.3 percent to 7.4 percent. The number only tells part of the story; it's a rise the department attributed to more people again seeking work, which adds to the workforce overall.

In 2010, the county Economic Development Corp. reported that seven companies relocated within Morris County, five moved into the county, four expanded their current locations and 22 new companies moved into Morris County office space. Parsippany saw 15 company changes; Florham Park, three, including the start of a new BASF world headquarters at the Green at Florham Park, home of the New York Jets; and Morris Township saw two company shifts, including the addition of 450 jobs when Covanta Energy Corp. moved in.

Making Your Passion Your New Career

Many in the state who have been unemployed for a long time are using the time to explore their passions and turn those passions into new career paths. Sal Canzonieri, a 51-year-old Whippany resident, lost his 25-year job as a technical writer to Alcatel-Lucent in 2008 after the company outsourced operations to China. Thinking it would be a short period to time before he found a new job, he found his search taking years and saw many ads looking for no more than 10 years experience.

Faced with bankruptcy and foreclosure, Canzonieri thought back to the enjoyment he had when he taught Qigong and Kung Fu as part of Lucent's employee wellness program and decided to take the plunge, opening his own business in this area. While his life is different than before—he now teaches in 10 locations and spends the rest of his time dedicated to marketing—he finds personal fulfillment in his new job.

“What I’m doing now is much more fulfilling and I feel that I’m actually contributing to society and doing something useful by helping them and healing them. I’m not just working on a piece of paper that in a few months becomes outdated,” Canzonieri said,

Melissa Rivardo, a 42-year-old Morristown resident, spent a decade working at a Morris Township restaurant in 2008 when the owners decided to close up shop. Looking for a new job in the restaurant industry, she found herself confronted with owners looking to hire younger workers. Having spent three years volunteering with the Healing Touch program at Morristown Memorial Hospital, she found a new love for massage therapy and enolled in a program geared to a new career path.

Rivardo now works an 80-hour week, between two jobs. In addition to her massage therapy work, she is a food server at a restaurant in Short Hills. She finds more fulfillment now then she did in her previous job.

“When Pierre’s first closed I felt some anxiety but then I also felt a sense of freedom to pursue what I had been thinking about for a long time,” Rivardo said.

The New Job Hunter

Wyckoff said the most surprising fact coming out of what some are calling The Great Recession is in the lack of motivation from the potential workforce.

"We've seen a change," Wyckoff said. "You would think that coming out of a recession people would be banging on the door. But, people seem to have gotten into the rhythm of being out of work. People are making more money staying home—it's really shocking."

Wyckoff blames much of the trend on changes to federal unemployment insurance.

"Someone who was making $40,000 can just stay home and make $30,000," he said.

Wyckoff said that while many believe that when unemployment is high, it is easier to find people to fill jobs, it is actually the opposite in his opinion. He said that it is tougher to find qualified job candidates, saying that many he sees do not have “integrity, honesty and initiative.”

He encourages many to have a high energy level and to know how to convey a professional attitude when they interview for a job. He said this includes being able to dress the part. He said the one thing he is seeing is that many of his clients are missing professionalism and motivation.

“It’s not the Greatest Generation anymore,” he said.

While Wyckoff said that he has not seen initiative, others involved in the job-hunting arena have seen the initiative. Leaders of the Hudson County Jaycees’ first job fair in Jersey City expected 500 people for their Feb. 4 event were startled to see more than 1,500 job seekers coming from Essex, Hudson, Morris and Passaic Counties.

Zach Edelman, the founding president of the Hudson County Jaycees, said that the fair was attended by 43 companies ranging from Prudential, Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Atlantic Coast Media Group to state agencies. The demographics of fair attendees ranged from recent college grads to those in their 50s. The group is looking to continue work on employment-related programs, including a partnership with other groups.

“It was indicative of the economy, it was hard to judge, but people are truly hurting,” said Zach Edelman, the founding president of the Hudson County Jaycees. “I don’t think we knew how bad the economy was. People came out of the woodwork.”

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »