Metro job market heats up for those with skills

If you want one of 2016’s hottest jobs, the kind with a sizzling paycheck, you’re gonna need skills — serious skills.

Fluency in software languages like Hadoop, Java and C++, for instance. Or tax and accounting knowledge. Good communication and people skills always help, too.

The overall job market in metro Atlanta is expected to continue its solid if unspectacular growth this year, though as with hiring nationally it is freighted with lower-paying service positions.

But there are paths to more lucrative jobs, some that didn’t even exist a couple years ago and some of them managing the people who bring special talents to the table.

Demand is particularly high in metro Atlanta for IT architects and developers of certain software languages, said Jim McNabb, president of Staffing Technologies, an Alpharetta-based staffing company.

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One reason for that is the corporate trend away from using developers in India, he said.

“Just in Atlanta, there are six companies that have brought all the development back to the United States,” McNabb said.

The importance of “big data” has created jobs. That puts a premium on engineers and analysts who can manage and protect a company’s digital assets, McNabb said. “Security and identity management – this is a real hot area. They get hacked one more time and they’ll realize.”

An IT architect can make up to $140,000 a year, he said. Some security specialists command $200,000.

Not all the hot jobs are for software types.

Ramona Phillips of Atlanta, for example, has been doing pretty well with a more general skill set.

In less than a decade in the workforce, she has had a number of jobs – mostly contract work as a project manager for technology work. She isn’t a mobile application developer or information security expert, but she sure needs to understand enough to know what her people are doing.

“That makes me indispensable,” said Phillips, 30. “It is very lucrative.”

In college, she majored in marketing. She learned tech on the job.

Once she had a high-paying position with a telecom company. In the middle of the contract, a recruiter offered a job that would double her pay if she’d walk away. She walked.

Anemic raises for many

There are still roughly 140,000 officially unemployed workers in metro Atlanta and many thousands of others who have given up looking for jobs, taken part-time work or retired early. Many of the 2.7 million who do have jobs struggle with stagnant wages or anemic raises.

But with the economy in its sixth year of expansion and with metro unemployment half of its post-recession peak, there is increasing talk of skill shortages – at least among some select jobs.

People with the right skills can expect not only a decent job and paycheck, but in some case signing bonuses, hiring pros say.

Not all the skills in demand are new. Some are pretty old-fashioned, in fact. Get-up-and-go and the ability to communicate well and work with people, for instance, are high on the list.

Ryan Schadel, CEO of Marietta-based LaborSmart, a staffing company, said it used to be easy to find people with little experience to take entry-level management jobs that had the potential to pay off well after a years of hard work.

“We are struggling to find entrepreneurial business development managers, people who are hungry,” he said. “But we are not seeing those individuals.”

Jobs that combine running an office and managing clients might start at about $45,000 a year, but there’s a chance to earn six figures after some time with the company, he said. “It used to be a great apprenticeship.”

It might be that people have become conditioned to use email and texting instead of person-to-person social skills, he said. “If they can just sit back behind the computer and do it, they’d be okay. But there are just fewer hustlers.”

Healthcare still huge

Among other sectors, healthcare continues to be a huge and fertile field in metro Atlanta.

According to Simply Hired, a California-based employment web site, nurses were the largest job addition to metro Atlanta last year: the region added more than 10,000 nurses.

Engineers were in second place and software developers in third.

Employers are having an especially hard time filling jobs for experts in tax and auditing, said Frank Green, president of Atlanta-based ExecuSource.

“That is one of the tightest areas, and that is where I can get my highest fees,” he said.

Those jobs typically don’t pay in six figures, but they also don’t usually require a lot of experience. Someone who majored in accounting and has two or three years of audit experience can make more than $60,000 – and more than that, if they are a CPA.

Green gets frequent calls from companies desperately seeking that kind of expertise. So Green’s company sifts through names of people already working in Atlanta. He trolls through LinkedIn lists of people working elsewhere, sometimes offering fees to pay for a move from Charlotte or Birmingham.

But the fee for a recruiter or staffing company depends on actually finding a qualified candidate to fill the opening.

“But the crazy part,” said Green, “is that I don’t have one person for them.”

That suggests that people with those skills already have work, and the market is tight.

Good news for incomes

It also bodes well for household incomes.

After incomes plunged during the recession, there were several years in which most households were not holding their own even against very muted inflation. But national statistics – more up to date than local data – show household income now rising faster than inflation.

The economic key is supply and demand. For many job openings, there is a shallower pool of candidates.

For the highly skilled – like software developers writing for mobile devices – there has been about an 8 percent increase in salary in the past year, said Andy Decker, Atlanta-based senior regional president for staffing company Robert Half.

“Mobile apps developer – 10 years ago, before the iPhone, that wasn’t even a job,” Decker said. “Now they are making $115,000 to $175,000.”

Tech jobs overall have seen salaries rise 5.3 percent, while finance and accounting jobs have increased nearly as much, he said. “Companies need to realize that what they could get five or six years ago for a certain salary, isn’t available now.”

That mismatch has spread even to some jobs that do not require advanced training or skills, including customer service representatives and administrative assistants, Decker said.

“Across the board we are seeing a general uptick. Companies are continuing to hire. They are feeling more confident.”

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