For adaptable workers, new jobs in this labor evolution
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Glenn E. Putas describes himself as the happiest man in the world. Every day that he puts on his Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel security uniform and goes to work is a great day.
To be fair, Mr. Putas, 57, of McKees Rocks, admits he tends to be happy no matter what he is doing. He loved his job as a pipe fitter on a chemical plant on Neville Island. For 31 and a half years he worked at the plant that was owned by U.S. Steel when he started and switched hands repeatedly until Sunoco, the last owner, closed it in 2008.
He was 55 and had an unused bachelor's degree in education. He briefly considered earning a master's degree and finally entering the classroom but settled instead on retraining to become a security guard.
Mr. Putas -- like the local and national economies -- in essence replaced his higher paying manufacturing job with a lower paying job in the service sector.
The benefit to him, besides now having a regular income, is that he likes what he does and likes working with people to make them happy. "I am grateful to have a new career, a new home and a new family." He often repeats the hotel's slogan that he is "turning moments into memories."
The Pittsburgh region's past decade has been filled with many moments making manufacturing jobs a memory.
The region saw its manufacturing sector drop more than 40,000 jobs -- from over 190,000 to under 150,000 -- between 2000 through 2009, while the number of service industry jobs rose by more than 20,000 through the decade -- from just about 950,000 to more than 970,000. At the peak, before the financial downturn that hit in 2008, the service sector reached 990,000 jobs.
When the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board took a look at the regional economy this year, it found some interesting statistics.
There were the careers that everyone intuited were growing. Health care added 15,989 jobs over five years. Education services grew by 12,277 jobs.
And there were the sectors that were shrinking. Administrative support, such as secretarial services, dropped 4,751 jobs in the region. Manufacturing lost 9,626 jobs.
But one sector that seems to keep churning out jobs -- retail -- has also seen significant job losses in the past five years. The statistics showed the category lost nearly 10,000 jobs, even though there are still 185,780 jobs in sales.
The do-it-yourself trend has been a factor.
While Vera Krofcheck, the research manager at the workforce investment board, said stores have closed and people have been laid off, another big factor is store staffing levels. Now, in places like Giant Eagle, Lowe's and Home Depot, customers can ring up their own sales -- something that wouldn't have been possible 15 to 20 years ago. Banks have automatic teller machines and even movie theaters have kiosks to sell tickets.
The retail employment scene illustrates the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's latest analysis showing that occupations with the largest total employment base will have the most jobs in coming years, mainly because of turnover.
For instance, in 2006, there were 206,870 people in the seven counties of the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area employed in office and administrative support positions. By 2016, according to state projections, that category is only going to grow at a rate of 1.6 percent, which will add 1,149 jobs a year to the sector.
The need to replace workers in existing positions will open up 4,411 jobs a year: information and record clerks (1,836 a year), financial clerks (913 a year), customer service representatives (1,008 a year), and office and administrative support workers (1,122 a year).
Even administrative support areas that are shrinking -- such as jobs recording, scheduling and dispatching materials -- are projected to have nearly 800 openings a year despite losing 5.7 percent of total positions over the coming decade.
Stefani Pashman, the CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, said workers need skills that are transferable.
Unlike trades, where skills are highly specific, in the growing service sector someone who knows math, science or communications and has the ability to get to work on time and act appropriately will be able to move between employment sectors and with an upward career trajectory.
Ms. Pashman said the days of staying in the same job for 20 or 30 years are gone.
The computer specialist category has been projected to see a high growth rate of 14.5 percent over the decade ending in 2016, with the highest percentages for network systems and data communications analysts (expected growth 50 percent) and computer software engineers and applications (expected growth of 33.7 percent). But, combined, those two occupations will produce just 203 annual openings because they started with about 3,500 jobs.
Still, growth that adds jobs -- even on a small scale -- is welcome. One South Side company that has done well over the last five years has been Schell Games, a video game company founded by Jesse Schell, in 2002.
Mr. Schell, an assistant professor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University, hired his first four employees in 2004. Now the company is 50 strong and, while the company hasn't been hiring in the last year, it has held its own.
The company is in the process of launching a number of new games. This Christmas one of Time Magazine's hottest toys of the year was Disney's Toy Story Mania, a 3D game that plugs directly into the TV and is a product of Schell Games.
Other projects the company is working on involve the movie "The Mummy" and, while Mr. Schell can't release details, he said the company will be launching a game for the iPad and other games for Facebook, as well as working on some ideas with sporting teams.
The new products come with a whole new set of responsibilities.
"We're transitioning from a studio that's about making something that's new to a studio that's about maintaining something that's out," Mr. Schell said.
The company will keep developing new games and working to keep up with industry developments.
As Mr. Schell said, the technology keeps changing, and no one really knows what Facebook games are going to look like a year or two from now.
That should keep his workers employed.
TODAY: Some sectors have weathered the recession better than others or recovered faster.
Tomorrow: The recession has kept labor lawyers busy as work force shifts have pressured employers and workers.
Tuesday: Manufacturers that found ways to survive the recession see more work coming for their employees.
Wednesday: Starting a career during a recession posed challenges for young workers.
Thursday: Getting laid off can mark the beginning of a new entrepreneurial career chapter.
Friday: Part time, temporary and contractor has become the norm at many places and for many people.
First Published December 26, 2010 12:00 am