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Change Careers: Learn new skills and explore the Southland's rapidly growing job market

Unemployment rates remain stubbornly high across the country. In Los Angeles County, more than 500,000 people are currently out of work. But there are plenty of jobs to be had — so long as you’re looking in the right place or you’re willing to reinvent yourself.

Several industries are, in fact, experiencing robust growth in greater L.A. That includes entertainment, engineering, transportation and healthcare.

“The job market in Los Angeles is steadily growing, and we’ve seen a good pattern of growth since the beginning of the new year, with job openings increasing every month except for August,” said  James Beriker, president and chief executive officer of the online jobs marketplace Simply Hired. Available positions are up an average of 4% month-over-month and 33% in the last year, he added.

The California Employment Development Department reports that computer systems design; scientific and technical consulting services; and leisure and hospitality will rank high among fast-growing professions in Los Angeles County through 2020.

Christine Cooper, vice president of economics and policy analysis at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said high-demand fields also include entertainment. “It’s a really vibrant area,” she said of the wide-ranging industry that includes gaming, app design and sound recording. “It’s all one large ecosystem.”

Much of the local tech-entertainment workforce is concentrated in the Silicon Beach area, which covers Santa Monica, Venice and Playa del Rey. With an increased need for programmers, Web-based software developers, network systems administrators and support technicians, economists expect to see more than 25,000 job openings over the next five or six years.

“Anybody with energy and a passion for this will find a job,” Cooper said.

LaMae Weber is chief executive officer at San Fernando Valley-based Dream Warrior Group, a software development company. She said that people interested in breaking into the field or making themselves more attractive to employers must have expertise in a variety of areas. “You really need to have experience in more than one discipline,” she said. “You need different skill sets. Someone who may have just worked on search engine optimization one day could be asked to take on a Web design project the next day and do some graphic arts project the day after that.”

Cooper said the aerospace industry should also see a healthy job market in the next several years: “We’ve lost some defense funding over the years; however, we’ve also seen some growth with commercial aerospace firms.” Add to that the fact that many workers in the Southern California aerospace industry are nearing retirement age, and the result is high demand for mechanical and electrical engineers, along with workers proficient in digital manufacturing.

Folks may want to target healthcare, too — the L.A. County Economic Development Corp. projects that an additional 20,000 registered nurses will be needed in the region over the next five or six years, while the state Employment Development Department projects more than 100,000 new jobs in healthcare and social services between 2010 and 2020.

Sandy Comstock, associate dean for allied health occupations at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, said the school’s surgical technology program, which prepares students to assist in the operating room, can be completed within a year. Someone who’s working and can go to school only part-time can complete a licensed vocational nursing program in two years. And the registered nursing program covers four semesters of full-time study.

Comstock estimates that 50% of people in the allied health occupations program are seeking a career change.

Fortunately, federal and state governments have been pumping millions of dollars into training programs. MiraCosta College was one of 12 community colleges in the state sharing more than $29 million in recently awarded federal grants to develop and expand training programs in partnership with local businesses. The grants are part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, a $2 billion multiyear effort. Much of MiraCosta’s award is going to its machinist and electronic engineering training programs.

The Los Angeles Community College District campuses will share $19.25 million in federal grant money, with the resources directed toward the Healthcare Competency to Career Consortium, which partners with healthcare industry employers to train workers. Saddleback College and the South Orange Community College District were awarded $2.75 million for the Orange County Health Career Transitions program. Long Beach City College, meanwhile, was granted $2.75 million to expand engineering education programs.

In some cases, an employer, the state or both will cover the cost of an education. Take the Professional Development Center at Glendale Community College, for example.

“We serve businesses throughout Southern California that need training to upgrade the skills of their employees,” said the center’s executive director, Kimberly Holland. “So many employees today need to do more than what they were hired for.”

The center last year trained 1,388 employees from 393 companies. Some 890 trainees earned certificates in computer and manufacturing skills, including computer numerical control programming, solid-modeling CAD (computer-aided design), masterCAM (computer-aided manufacturing) and shop math.

Meanwhile, resources abound for those looking to find a line of work, pay for their education or write a resume. CareerOneStop.org includes features such as a “Skills Profiler” to help identify occupations that require skills similar to a current job, plus an Employability Checkup for a snapshot of your ability to find work at a particular wage and location. America’s Service Locator (www.servicelocator.org) includes links to resources, wages and salaries paid in various employment sectors, and the site also can help you look for jobs, as well as resume and cover-letter workshops.

Workers worried about the challenges of switching careers can look to Christine Cooper from the L.A. County Economic Development Corp. for motivation. She had been a property and portfolio manager for 15 years when she decided she didn’t want to spend the rest of her career in that line of work. She went back to school and, after seven years of part-time study, obtained a Ph.D. in economics from USC.

“A change in careers is a fact of life that we might all face,” she said. “It is not uncommon to find yourself in a college course with people who are older than you or who are younger than you.”

David Ogul, Brand Publishing Writer

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