11:25am

Tue July 19, 2011
Economy

Hopeful Applicants Settle For Spare Job Openings

Check the want ads in just about any city or town in the U.S. and you'll find the words, "Help Wanted." The economy added only a few thousand jobs in June according to the latest jobs report, and 14 million Americans remain out of work.

But, there are jobs in Allentown, Penn. The town used to depend on steel and heavy manufacturing. Those jobs are largely gone, but Allentown has become an important distribution point for goods passing through on their way to New York and Philadelphia. And there are open positions — especially if you can drive a forklift.

Tom Bradley is trying to find people to work in a warehouse for $11 to $15 an hour. Bradley is a recruiter for Assante, which provides 'contingent workers' — also known as temps — for other companies. Lately, he's been running a job fair at the CareerLink office in Allentown every week.

"We're very busy. I foresee doing this for at least the next seven, eight weeks to help fill up our pipeline of people who want to go to work," he says.

You might think the high unemployment rate would make Bradley's job easier, but, he says, it's not that simple.

"As long as the government continues to extend unemployment benefits, there's a certain percentage of people that would prefer just to stay home, and get paid for staying home," he says.

Officially, the unemployment rate in Allentown and the surrounding Lehigh Valley is 8.4 percent. But, the real number of people out of work is probably much higher, Gina Kormanik of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board says.

"When you do the number of discouraged workers, it may be closer to 14, 15 percent, actually. Our goal is to make sure people are connected to the work force. Because if they haven't been into training in the last six months, year, two years, they're out of date," she says.

Peter Rittenhouse runs two Nestle Water bottling plants in the Lehigh Valley, just west of Allentown.

"We produce about 6 million bottles a day. And we're right at about 1 million gallons of water a day," Rittenhouse says.

He's hired about 25 people this year, for jobs paying as much as $20 an hour. There's no shortage of applicants, Rittenhouse says, but many lack the computer and technical expertise to work in a highly automated factory.

"A lot of the unemployed people that we see don't have the skills we're looking for, in terms of helping us solve problems in a high-speed environment. That's where the dilemma is," he says.

Those who go back to school for more training are finding that their new education doesn't guarantee them a new job.

"There's opportunities. But a lot of people are afraid to hire. And those that are hiring, are actually hiring from within," John Branch says.

At the CareerLink office in Allentown, Branch is waiting to use one of the computers where job seekers can post resumes and search listings. He graduated a month ago from a local community college with a degree in IT.

Kristina Fritz is also using the CareerLink computer, but she's looking for a clerical job, like the one she lost several years ago when the company she worked for went out of business.

For now, Fritz says she's settling for a job at a local warehouse.

"You do what you have to do," she says. "I see more frustration in people, you know what I mean? Like now, what are they going to do?"

Judging by the turnout at the job fair, a lot of people have decided that a warehouse job is better than no job at all.

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