Vacancies for Highly Specialized Jobs Increase

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Although 15.1 million people are out of work nationwide, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from September, employers are seeing an increase in vacancies for positions that require highly specialized skills.

Berkeley's unemployment rate reached 11.2 percent in August, while the state's unemployment rate was 12.2 percent, according to California's Employment Development Department. But employers like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which are hiring highly skilled workers, are finding it harder to fill their job openings.

The laboratory, which received $187 million in stimulus funding as of August, is finding it more difficult to fill its 200 open positions, a drastic increase from their average 130 openings daily, said Vera Potapenko, the head of Berkeley Lab's human resources department, in an e-mailed statement.

"Most of our open positions are for scientists, engineers, postdoctoral fellows and research technicians," Potapenko wrote. "All of these positions are difficult to recruit because each requires very specific disciplinary knowledge and experience."

However, West Coast Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, the largest private employer in Berkeley, does not have an unusual amount of job vacancies, said Sreejit Mohan, director of public policy and communications. Still, the difficulty of finding people for highly specialized jobs is not at all uncommon, he added.

"In general, for highly specialized jobs, you would have to do a pretty aggressive recruiting," Mohan said. "There will always be competition for highly specialized jobs in any economic situation."

Instead of employers getting more selective, the problem might lie in the nationwide decline in students' interest in pursuing the education needed for those highly specialized jobs, said Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, in an e-mail.

"University enrollments in engineering have actually declined," King said in the e-mail. "The spots are there in universities, but only about 4.5 percent of university students, nationwide, are choosing engineering."

If engineering programs are restructured to allow more entry points after students' freshman or sophomore years, more students may be attracted to pursue the study, King wrote.

Job applicants' unwillingness to search outside of rigid job categories may further aggravate the problem, said Jo-Ellen Pozner, assistant professor at the Haas School of Business Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group.

"People should think broadly about what kinds of jobs they are interested in, and not what specific job titles and industries they are interested in," she said. "So getting anchored on wanting to be an accountant for a 'Big 5' accounting firm might not be that helpful, but thinking about yourself as someone who likes working with numbers or in control functions, that self-categorization can apply to a lot of different industries."


Contact Paul Edison at [email protected]

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