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THE TIMES 100 : THE BEST PERFORMING COMPANIES IN CALIFORNIA : THE HUMAN FACTOR : Finding Computer Work Isn’t a Job : Employment Up in High Tech, Way Down at Industrial Firms

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

If you are using a computer terminal to prepare your resume, your next job may be right in front of you. For nowhere in California’s diverse economy is the job outlook more rosy than in computers.

Between 1987 and 1988, California-based computer companies whose shares are publicly traded boosted their employment by 18.9%, and these high-tech companies seem determined to keep churning out jobs.

“High technology is where the new manufacturing jobs will be,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. The big increase, he says, is likely to be in sales.

Apple Computer’s employment in the state, for example, grew from 4,000 to 7,000 employees in the past year, according to a compilation by MZ Group, a business analysis firm in San Francisco. Komag Inc., a Milpitas-based maker of components for computer disk drives, jumped from 462 to 1,242 employees in the same period.

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Of course, high technology is a notoriously volatile sector of the economy. Recently, some firms have announced layoffs amid ever intense global competition. And if a recession hits within the next year, as some warn, there could be more layoffs to come.

If high technology looks too uncertain, the job-hungry can find hope elsewhere. “Most of the new jobs in the next decade will be in retail and services,” Levy said.

The state Employment Development Department, which looks at occupations, rather than industries, predicts that retail sales jobs will increase by 27.8% between 1985 and 1995. The biggest percentage growth will be in the number of jobs for paralegals, people trained to assist attorneys. The department predicts a 122% increase in employment in that field, equaling about 8,400 jobs in California.

As an indication of the surge in retail jobs, publicly held retail firms based in the state increased their total employment by 11.9% last year, with the number of jobs in California jumping from 88,688 in 1987 to 105,590 last year.

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The service sector, in its broadest sense, incorporates some of the state’s corporate giants. The No. 2 employer on the list of California companies is Beverly Enterprises, the Pasadena-based nursing home chain believed to be the nation’s largest long-term care provider. Beverly, which operates nearly 1,000 facilities nationwide, has 108,334 employees worldwide and 10,786 in California. A spokesman for the company said he expects employment to remain stable for the rest of 1989.

The financial services industry reported a modest 4.1% increase in employment between 1987 and 1988. The financial industry’s California employment rose from 194,408 in 1987 to 205,822 in 1988. Within that group, Mercury General Corp. increased employment from 860 to 1,030 in that period while giant Transamerica Corp. held steady at 8,000.

The job outlook is a bit bleaker for those working for industrial and wholesale businesses. In the past year, the total number of jobs at publicly traded, California-based industrial firms dropped 14.6% while jobs in the wholesale sector dipped 13.3%.

Biotechnology and drug companies, many of which are struggling to become profitable, reported an 8.4% drop in total employment in the past year, according to the study by the MZ Group.

However, the entertainment and leisure sector generated a 9% increase in jobs, with 10 companies surveyed reporting that they had hired new workers. Walt Disney Co., which has released a string of hit movies through its Touchstone Pictures group, led the list by hiring about 2,000 new employees here last year.

While computer and retail industry employment is expanding, Levy and others predict that the number of aerospace and defense jobs will remain stable in the next few years. Last year, the California-based industry experienced a drop in statewide employment from 168,085 employees to 162,957 while its total employment declined 5.4%.

“If you look out over the next eight years and say real defense expenditures are going to be flat, we expect that increasing productivity will slowly reduce the number of people needed to produce the same amount of stuff,” said Levy.

Aerospace executives agreed with Levy.

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“The employment picture looks relatively stable with small increases in some of the specialized technical areas,” said Nanette Clements, Rockwell International’s director of human resources. Clements said there will be some jobs opening for those skilled in simulation and systems testing, electro-optics and software systems.

Rockwell International moved to the top of the employer list by moving its headquarters from Pittsburgh to El Segundo last May.

The giant aerospace firm, with 112,160 employees worldwide and 37,356 in California, plans no increases in hiring this year.

Clements said the actual number of people who moved West with Rockwell last spring was “very, very small.” She declined to say how many employees made the move.

Aerospace industry analysts point out that other aerospace firms, including GM Hughes and McDonnell Douglas, have more California employees than Rockwell, but are headquartered out of state.


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