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Most hot jobs require computer competency

On his resume, John Fornes leaps with the agility of a tennis star.

He has sold goods at Sears, worked in a puzzle factory, purchased supplies for a health care provider - plus he plays the drums in a jazz combo.

To those skills, the 56-year-old added one more last year as he prepared for his next jump.

"I've used software, but my computer skills could be better," the Buffalo resident said. So he taught himself to use Microsoft Office at the downtown Buffalo Employment and Training Center. "I needed to do that," he said.

Upgrading one's skills is the key not only to getting a better job, but also to keeping the one you have, employment counselors say - and technology skills have become resume builders across the board.

"Almost all occupations now require some computer experience - even things like driving a truck," said Denise Raymond, director of the Erie Community College One-Stop employment center in Orchard Park.

While cutbacks at big employers grab attention, the Buffalo-Niagara region continues to create jobs as well as lose them. Employment experts see openings in health care, information technology, and manufacturing for candidates with the right background.

"You have these dislocated manufacturing workers . . . [but] they do have potential places to go," said Colleen Cummings, director of the Buffalo Employment and Training Center on Goodell Street. "People's job search is shorter."

Fornes expects his newly sharpened computer skills to land him a job that fits him better than the last one. He left a purchasing job last summer after his duties changed. He plans to return to the field, "but not as a glorified stock clerk," he said. "I'm not looking for the first decent match that comes along."

Fornes was among about 175 people a day who use the downtown employment center to look for a new job or upgrade their skills. He took advantage of self-paced computer training available at the center. "The facility is an incredible tool," he said.

There were 553,000 jobs in Erie and Niagara counties near the end of 2006. While overall jobs declined slightly, some sectors hung out the help-wanted sign. The transportation and warehousing sector grew by 1.7 percent over the year ending in November, to 17,800 jobs. Accommodation and food services, including hotels, restaurants and bars, also added 1.7 percent to 41,000 jobs.

Nationally, five of the 20 fastestgrowing jobs are in computer fields, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Through 2004, occupations such as network systems analysts and computer software engineers will grow by more than 25 percent, the agency's analysis said. Many of the hottest jobs are in health care, the survey found, as aging population drives up demand. Health care is also one of Western New York's hot job sources, employment experts say. And while hospital consolidation may be coming, jobs for caregivers who deal with patients directly are expected to continue their growth path.

Even manufacturing, which is shrinking overall, is creating jobs in niche sectors, job counselors said.

For example, the region's auto parts plants created job opportunities even while they cut jobs overall. That's because the severance incentives that companies offered last year worked so well, they not only eliminated unnecessary workers but also made room for some new hires at lower wages.

"Even though they pay significantly less than before, we still see a big interest in those opportunities," Cummings said. For example, thousands of people applied at Delphi Automotive in Lockport for replacement jobs that pay about half the previous $26 wage.

Other job hot spots are outside the region's large industrial sectors.

The biotech industry has been the focus of development efforts, as money poured into research facilities. Now it appears that some jobs at the production end of the industry could be tough to fill, training experts said.

"It turns out from our survey there's quite a demand for bio-manufacturing technicians," said James Finamore, executive director of the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board.

The survey of seven pharmaceutical manufacturers found that the No. 1 barrier to their growth is a shortage of skilled workers to operate their hightech, tightly regulated plants. The companies expect to add 150 jobs to their 1,200 total over two years.

"The requirement used to be a high-school diploma, but now you need a two-year degree," Finamore said.

To lose job creation to other regions because of a lack of training here would be vexing, he said. His agency is seeking funding to launch a bio-manufacturing course at Erie Community College this fall.

"Through this whole bioinformatics thing, the question has been, 'Where are the jobs for joe six-pack?' " Finamore said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com