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Unemployment keeps agencies busy

January 10, 2009|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

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WASHINGTON COUNTY -- It's still very dark and cold at 5:45 a.m., but 30 people already are waiting at the Labor Ready Inc. office in Hagerstown's South End Shopping Center.

"Several of them are people that are trying to keep their homes, contractors that are trying to keep their trucks. They'll do anything," branch manager Judy Arthur said quietly as she watched others arrive.

"Before you even describe the job or how much it pays, or how long it is, they'll take it. They'll say, 'I'll do whatever you need me to do,'" Arthur said. "I mean, I have contractors I used to send people to, sweeping floors."

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Employment specialists, human resources directors and job recruitment workers are seeing the same situation as Washington County's jobless rate has risen to 6.7 percent, its highest level in nearly 13 years.

"Every job fair I've done in the past couple of months was sad," said Cassandra Weaver, senior director/administrative services at Fahrney-Keedy Home & Village, a continuing care retirement community near Boonsboro.

"It was sad to see the level of people. I don't want to call it desperation because I don't want to be dramatic," Weaver said. "It had more of an ominous (feeling). It wasn't people saying, 'I've got a great job. I want to try to better myself.'

"The feel was, 'I got a mortgage, I got a family and I've got to find a job.'"

Bright spots

Not that all hope is lost.

In Washington County, as elsewhere in Maryland, officials said, there still are a few sectors of the job market that are creating some additional jobs.

Biotechnology firms, health care and companies that employ truck drivers are ones mentioned by jobs officials here.

Washington County Hospital would seem to be one of the bright spots.

As of November, the hospital had 2,240 employees while a year ago, it had 2,159 workers, said Brooks McBurney, vice president of human resources for the Washington County Health System.

At present, the hospital is taking job applications for openings for about five registered nurses, three nursing assistants, four physical therapy workers, a social worker, a diabetes clinical specialist and a few other positions, McBurney said.

The current job vacancies "are mostly due to turnover, which is down significantly," McBurney said. "I think everyone is looking at the economy and saying, 'This is a good time to maintain a good position, a good job.'"

The hospital, like others across Maryland, has seen "some decline" in patient admissions as the economy has slowed, McBurney said.

It was the addition of new programs such as one in geriatrics and another providing a new way of treating wounds that created the hospital's newest jobs, he said.

But McBurney said he doesn't foresee any more new positions through at least next June, when the hospital's current budget year ends.

And while planning for fiscal 2010 is only beginning, "we are not anticipating any significant increase in employment" when the hospital moves to its new Robinwood-area site in November 2010, he said.

Sign of the times

One of the jobs available now at the hospital is supervisor of the Housekeeping Department, a position requiring a high school diploma and at least two years of experience.

Hospital job recruiter Sherri Schindel has been surprised at the recent change in the types of candidates for such jobs.

"There are definitely ones that I would not have received even six months ago," Schindel said. "High quality. (They) definitely have higher levels of education.

"I've had people who have management experience and have master's degrees that have lost their jobs recently. And we're seeing a larger number of applications."

Jenny Shingleton, who works with Schindel, said she sees signs of the economic recession in the applicants themselves.

"They are so anxious to find work right now," Shingleton said. "I do have people following up more when they're submitting applications online."

Recently, she said, she had to fill two housekeeping jobs. Such workers clean patient rooms, floors and toilets.

"I had people applying who were truck drivers, warehouse," Shingleton said. "There was a business that had closed down here in town. He (one applicant) had worked for that company for 32 years, I believe. He had applied for a housekeeping job."

Across the board

The story is pretty much the same regardless of which jobs specialist you ask.

"There's so many marketable people out there now," said Kim Flannery, the county's branch manager for Manpower Inc., an employment services company. "People who have great skills and have been laid off because budgets have been downsized, companies closing and going out of business. And they might have been at that company for 25, 30 years, and now, the company's gone and where do they go from here?"

Like Flannery and Labor Ready's Arthur, the staff at the Western Maryland Consortium tries to help people find jobs.

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