Finding a hot job in a cool economy

Video game producer Donte Knippel had a secret weapon when his previous employer went out of business, throwing him out of work. He hired a recruiting firm to help him find a new job and had an offer within two months.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Olga Vityak has a prescription for landing a recession-proof job: Go back to school and get trained in a fast-growing healthcare field. ¶ Two years ago, the Ukrainian immigrant and single mother quit her job as a production manager at an Oregon electronics plant and moved to Los Angeles. Vityak enrolled in a trade school and graduated 11 months later as a pharmacy technician. Last month, she started her new job preparing medications at Los Angeles County’s largest hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. ¶ “I always wanted to work in the medical field,” she said recently. “It’s a more secure job, and the pay and benefits are good.” ¶ With California’s unemployment rate at its highest level in more than a decade, job seekers are poring over help-wanted ads and Internet job sites. Employment offices and job fairs are drawing crowds. And buzz words such as “headhunter,” “skill set” and “networking” take on new urgency.

But perhaps no topic provokes more interest among job seekers this Labor Day weekend than the elusive hot job. Where are these jobs? What do they require? And who is hiring?

The surprising answer is: They are out there -- thousands of them.

“There continue to be opportunities,” even for those without a college degree, with the right training, says Bonnie Graybill, a top labor market analyst with the California Employment Development Department.

A new list from Graybill’s office offers some enticing ideas for workers of all kinds, including registered nurses earning a median wage of $76,500 a year and heavy-truck drivers at $40,000.

Her office estimates there are about 30,000 California job openings in a dozen categories, ranging from executive secretaries needing modest work experience to computer software application engineers with bachelor’s or advanced degrees.

Video game producer Donte Knippel is thrilled to have grabbed one of those hot jobs. His secret: Play the jobs game and hire a recruiting firm to help.

Laid off earlier this year when his previous employer closed, he looked for work for only two months before being hired in May by Obsidian Entertainment Inc. in Orange.

His job search floundered a bit at first but quickly hit pay dirt when he signed up with a local recruiting firm that specializes in such niche professions.

“There’s always a company trying to do the latest and greatest,” Knippel says, noting that the video game business is somewhat recession-proof because “people use video games to get away from their troubles.”

People with game-producing skills are in high demand, says Trent Overholt, owner of Management Recruiters Los Angeles-South Bay, which helped Knippel connect with Obsidian. “There are many hot spots that employ specialized talent,” he says.

But getting that specialized training isn’t always easy.

‘Very hard to make it’

Making enough money to pay the rent and buy the groceries is a challenge for single mother Lynn Woods of San Jose, who has been out of work since February. Woods, 48, worked for Hewlett-Packard Co. for 21 years before being laid off in 2001.

Since then she’s run through a series of jobs and currently lives on unemployment benefits, food stamps and part-time work. While taking college courses online in hopes of earning a bachelor’s in psychology, she is doing booking and sales for “Dr. Noize,” a local children’s entertainer.

“It’s very hard to make it,” she says.

Tax accountant Thomas Foose, however, didn’t run into any difficulties when he and his wife moved to Southern California from the Bay Area earlier this summer.

On Aug. 18 he started at Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt, a Santa Monica accounting firm, after getting multiple job offers from other employers.

Though it may “not be nearly as glamorous as some other roles,” Foose, 26, concedes, accounting provides steady work. He credits his choice of profession -- and the constant need for accurate financial data -- for keeping him employed through two weak economies since graduating from UC Santa Barbara in 2001.

“It’s never seemed like a tough market,” he said.

Indeed, Foose’s upbeat assessment is shared by many employers, who say they’re still hiring top executives, technicians and rank-and-file workers in a half-dozen job categories.

State government and private surveys indicate that growth is strong in health, information and computer networking, accounting, sales and engineering.

Healthcare and related fields account for 20 of the 50 occupations projected to have the fastest growth in the next two years, the state says on its website.

Nursing topped the August list of 25 Most Wanted U.S. Job Candidates compiled by Jobfox, an Internet “matchmaker” that connects candidates and employers.

“Anything having to do with catering to aging baby boomers is going to be solid for many decades to come because you’ve got 77 million baby boomers,” says Barry Lawrence, a career expert and marketer at Jobfox’s headquarters in McLean, Va.'s so-called Silicon Alley.

The 952-bed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Los Angeles has boosted its staff “across the spectrum” by 11% to about 10,000 in the last four years, says Jeanne Flores, senior vice president for human resources and organization.

The hospital each year hires about 450 registered nurses, 120 medical and laboratory technologists, 20 pharmacists and scores of clerical, billing and collection personnel, Flores says.

Degree not required?

California companies also are looking for more computer hardware, software and networking experts. San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., which provides wireless technology and services, says it’s actively recruiting 800 people, mostly engineers, in the United States and internationally.

But not all the current hot jobs require advanced degrees or high-tech training.

Restaurant and banquet services ranks 11th on the Jobfox list, while the California Employment Development Department predicts an uptick in the need for meat, poultry and fish cutters.

People might not want to spend money on haute cuisine but they may still want “to get out with the kids and family” for a burger or pizza at a fast-food restaurant, says Jobfox’s Lawrence.

And no matter what shape the economy might be in, there will always be a need for top-notch salespeople, experts agree.

“If you are a good salesperson, you will always be employed,” says Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist who follows California and Los Angeles for the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

“Sales is the kind of skill that doesn’t get outsourced easily. The manufacturing might be in China and the back office in India, but you still need someone to interface with customers,” Nickelsburg said.