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Steady jobs in Shaky times

Job security better for some

January 11, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN/The Leader-Herald

To hear the head of the largest employer in Fulton County tell it, if job security in tough times is at issue, go to work for Lexington Center.

"All our jobs are very secure," Lexington Executive Director Paul Nigra said. "The main reason is because of the work we do. The people we support are so needy. Somebody has to do it."

Lexington employs more than 1,400 full-time staff, Public Relations Director Tim Fiori said. He said both direct-care and upper-administration jobs for an association of mentally and physically disabled citizens organization, like the Fulton County ARC, tend to be recession-proof.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Melissa Unterweger, left, an AccuStaff staffing specialist, works with Heather Rafferty, the owner of AccuStaff in Johnstown, on Thursday.

"A lot of administration and technical jobs are required by the state so everything gets done right," Nigra said.

Health care and state-mandated jobs like the ones at Lexington are among those listed at - a Web site of the Forbes publishing and media company - as most recession-proof.

Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties Workforce Solutions Executive Director Gail Breen said not only do health care professionals - doctors and nurses - tend to be in demand, but support services such as janitorial and clerical positions in health care agencies are stable during tough times.

"In times like these, there aren't really any recession-proof jobs," Breen said. "But some are safer than others."

Breen said the state Department of Labor has a job-sharing program that can save jobs that might otherwise be cut.

"An employer could reduce all job titles by 20 percent and file for unemployment insurance for the other 20 percent rather than lose every fifth worker," she said. "There are specific criteria to be eligible, but it's a wonderful program. It spreads the pain."

Breen said the upside includes not having to retrain a new employee, and a full complement of staff is kept at the business.

"Retraining can cost 30 percent of an annual wage for a new employee," Breen said.

She said with so much bad news about the economy in the media daily, everyone has a certain amount of anxiety.

"There was a time when people could leave their job and know they could get another one," she said. "Now they don't take that next job for granted."

Breen said more people are coming into Workforce Solutions for job training and counsel.

As to whether any jobs are coming on the horizon, she said the news isn't all bad.

"The 2010 census is coming up, and temporary census takers will be needed for that," she said.

Otherwise, Breen advised job seekers to not give up.

"Look harder and be more patient," she said.

At AccuStaff in Johnstown, Office Manager Diana Noakes said things had actually started turning around in the past few weeks as far as the need for temporary employment.

"AccuStaff is hiring for both manufacturing and shipping," she said.

In comparing the number of job seekers coming through the doors at the employment agency, Noakes said the numbers are up.

"We are up 15 to 20 percent the past month compared to a year ago," she said.

She said that while health care positions are "major," other areas like food and beverage distribution are a necessity.

"People still have to eat," she said.

Noakes said businesses like Wal-Mart and McDonald's are two that had stock increases and showed profits at the end of 2008.

"They can supply food cheaply when people have decided to forgo more expensive eating places," she said.

At Nathan Littauer Hospital, Lana Wydra, vice president of human resources, said she has been at the hospital for 20 years and agreed health service workers, and nurses in particular, always seems to be in demand.

"There's not a lot of turnover," Wydra said. "There's more turnover in physical therapy, laboratory work and medical imaging. They are all in high demand."

Nursing Supervisor Charmaine Miskinis said employees tend to have long tenures at the hospital. She has been there since 1981 and medical surgery nurse Paula Bowman said she has been at NLH for 31 years.

"We are well-treated here," Bowman said.

Miskinis agreed, saying the nursing staff tends to work well as a team.

Littauer Public Relations Coordinator Cheryl McGrattan said she hasn't been in her position long, but when she looked for a job, one of the things she looked at was retention rate.

"Going to work at a new job is like finding a new family," she said.

She said the work environment and retention at the hospital are more important than pay scale.

"Nurses here all tend to average 20 to 25 years on the job," Vice President of Development Sue Kiernan said.

Officials at St. Mary's Hospital agreed with those at NLH.

Human Resources Director Beth Case said some positions are always in demand. They were hard to fill before the recession hit and still are difficult to fill.

"Even with the economy being bad, registered nurses, [medical imaging] ultra stenographers, pharmacists and medical technicians are always difficult to find," Case said.

She said this could be a factor of the region.

"When people graduate with those degrees, they are sought after and can go anywhere," Case said.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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