Spokane Journal of Business

County’s mid-level occupations grow in pay, demand

Job growth here seen across all industries, state’s labor economist says

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From construction workers to bookkeepers to laboratory technicians, mid-level occupations in Spokane County are experiencing strong growth both in wages and demand.

The number of jobs in those occupations has grown about 2 percent to 2.5 percent in the last year, which is healthy, says Jeff Zahir, regional labor economist here for the Washington state Employment Security Department.

The most growth in jobs and wages are in that middle class, he says. Their wages have grown at about 2.5 to 3 percent over the last 12 months. Thats hefty.

Such jobs arent confined to one industry sector.

The growth is across the board, which is really good news for our community, Zahir says.

Due to the construction boom over the past two years, many of those jobs are in the construction industry.

Yet, the Spokane area also is seeing substantial pay raises in mid-level positions in the finance and education sectors and in the health sector with orderlies, technicians, and lab people.

Workers in the top 10 percentile of pay rates here have seen the greatest increase in wages, 100 percent in some cases, Zahir says. Their incomes are growing really, really fast.

The other group that has seen a lot of wage increases are people at the low end or in entry-level positions, he says. Such workers are moving to mid-level positions, leaving entry-level jobs vacant, causing employers to raise pay rates at the entry level.

That middle group got healthy raises, above the rate of inflation, not to be minimized, but relative to their counterparts at the lower end of the pay scale and the upper end of the pay scale, they didnt fare as well, nor did they fare as well as those in other cities across Washington, Zahir says.

The agencys latest Occupational Outlook report says about 37 job openings will occur for dental hygienists a year between 2004 and 2014 in Spokane county, and hygienists earned an estimated average annual wage of $31,672 as of June 2006.

An estimated 38 annual openings will occur for computer-support specialists, who earned about $35,600 a year, the report says.

Truck drivers earned $33,645 a year on average and will see 97 openings a year, while 21 openings a year will occur for medical and clinical laboratory technicians who earned $35,202, it says.

When a business here decides to expand, says Zahir, it typically does so by adding to its labor force rather than by building a new facility. Theyve chosen to place their money with the people, he says.

URM Inc., the Spokane-based grocery wholesaler that also operates Rosauers Supermarkets, is feeling the effects of the tight labor market here.

Were finding it very hard to find good qualified people, says Katy Vitcovich, URMs vice president of human resources.

We are hiring extensively for front-line positions, which would be order selectors in the warehouse and truck drivers, and theres definitely a nationwide shortage of truck drivers, she says.

URMs demand for mid-level workers has grown in the last couple of years, and half of that growth is due to the companys growth.

The cooperative also has experienced more mid-level turnover than in the past, she says.

One thing that concerns me as an HR manager is that weve got the baby boomers in the next five to 10 years who will be retiring, she says. That can be a real brain drain.

Mid-level occupations that URM likely would be looking to fill in the future as a result of that exodus include store managers, store-development positions, information-technology positions, warehouse operations managers, and purchasing and sales positions.

Vitcovich declines to disclose specific wage information, but says URM offers a very competitive salary, especially when we consider our benefits package. We always get high marks from employees for our benefits package.

In the temporary-placement market, Tom Droz, owner of a Manpower Inc. franchise here, says there is a recruitment crunch.

The demographics have shifted where were not getting as many workers coming into the work force.

Pay for temporary production workers has increased slightly to about $10 per hour, while call-center workers earn about $9.50 an hour, and office workers start at about $10 an hour, he says.

Even so, Manpower has approached its corporate clients to increase their pay rates for temporary workers in general, he says.

Manpower typically doesnt handle placement of mid-level positions, but it would be an interesting market to tap into, Droz says.

Pay compression

Economist Zahir says there are some growing gaps here between pay-increase rates for entry-level and mid-level positions.

Due to the tight labor market and as entry-level workers move into mid-level positions, employers then raise entry-level pay to attract workers, he says. Compensation for entry-level positions can increase at a faster rate than for mid-level positions held by workers with more experience in a phenomenon known as pay compression.

Spokane County doesnt have a Boeing Co. or a Microsoft Corp., which would attract highly skilled workers with Ph.D.s, Zahir says.

As long as we have wages that are competitive with other countries, those are not going to be the kind of wages that will attract workers from other countries, Zahir says. Were not a destination for people who are very highly skilled.

Nevertheless, he says, We have great success stories about people who have made outstanding strides, including developers, business leaders, and those in high-tech innovation. What its doing is sort of positioning us in a high-tech, high-ed world with a few less high-tech, high-ed people, he says.

While economic-development organizations push to build up some industry sectors here, including aerospace, Spokane is competing with many other areas for such companies, Zahir says.

Tri-Cities employers, for example, report that there are 80 people working as aerospace engineers there, while Spokane has none.

Aerospace companies likely would be drawn to the Tri-Cities to attract people for such positions, he says.

URMs Vitcovich agrees that there is some pay compression here. I believe that pay compensation for entry-level jobs seems to be more in demand than upper-level jobs. Youre getting compression there because theres more demand at the entry level.

Spokanes Sacred Heart Medical Center & Childrens Hospital, however, hasnt experienced pay compression. It refers to surveys when determining compensation, and its staff turnover is relatively low, at 8 percent to 9 percent annually versus about 16 percent at hospitals nationally, says Patrick Clarry, vice president of human resources at the hospital.

I can see that (pay compression) might happen in some industries, he says. I know that our span or spread of a pay scale is really regulated by the market, and if were not competitive in the market, wed disadvantage ourselves.

Clarry says that the health-care industry will continue to grow because it will always be a necessary service.

It is the professional positions, including registered nurses, pharmacists, imaging technicians, and those allied professional positions that are going to continue to be very hot jobs, and I think its the same nationwide, he says.

Contact Sandra Hosking at (509) 344-1260 or via e-mail at sandyh@spokanejournal.com.

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