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JOBS ABOUND IN A CHANGING LABOR MARKET

Finding a job in Western New York shouldn't take a lot of work this year, but it might be a bit harder if you insist on a high salary.

With the local unemployment rate hovering around a 25-year low and the number of jobs generated by the local economy near an all-time high, area economists and development officials say the Western New York job market is quite healthy.

At the same time, though, the job market in the rest of the country is doing considerably better, and jobs of the quality that are being created in Western New York aren't highly sought after by workers because they don't pay high wages.

Still, experts say there will be plenty of turnover in the area's higher-paying factory jobs and other occupations as older employees retire and their employers need to find new workers to replace them.

Yet the jobs outlook is tempered by the tepid growth rate in the local job market. While the Niagara Frontier has managed to add jobs during each of the past two years after contracting in 1995 and 1996, the pace of the growth has been very slow.

The region added jobs at a 0.2 percent pace through November, which was even slower than the 0.3 percent growth rate of 1997.

And the local economy added jobs at a far slower pace than the rest of the state, or the nation as a whole. The state added jobs at a 1.6 percent rate through November, while the nation is growing at a 2.3 percent rate.

Put another way, that means when the Buffalo area adds two jobs, the state creates 16 new positions and the country gains 23 jobs. So while the region is growing, other places are moving ahead at a much faster pace and creating many more employment opportunities.

Still, even though unemployment rates are at historic lows and the number of jobs is near an all-time high, the region is not on the verge of any serious labor shortages, said George P. Smyntek, the regional economist for the state Labor Department.

"Because we aren't growing fast, the shortages that we do run into are very limited," he said. "I've yet to hear of any major crisis."

Andrew J. Rudnick, the president of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership, agreed.

"The only difficulty (in filling jobs) is if you're not willing to pay what the market requires," he said.

As a result, the region also isn't experiencing the type of widespread labor shortages that put undue pressure on employers to raise wages by above-average amounts.

"We haven't gotten that tight and there's a lot of pressure on businesses to hold the line, in terms of pricing," Smyntek said.

The key in today's job market is to keep updating your skills to keep up with the changing technologies that are involved with most jobs, officials said.

"Almost everybody has got to have some familiarity with the new technologies that are coming along," Smyntek said.

Still, most of the job openings that the Labor Department expects over the next decade are centered in occupations that require less than a year of on-the-job training, averaging $49,200 per year.

The Labor Department expects three-quarters of the openings that occur each year in the region's high-demand occupations through 2006 to require just short-term training. The state agency projects that the demand will be heaviest for jobs like cashiers, office clerks, janitors, sales clerks and food preparation workers.

In contrast, about 10 percent of the annual high-demand job openings will require a bachelor's degree or more, covering jobs like accountants, computer programmers, secondary school teachers and commercial artists.

Another 10 percent of the openings are expected to require long-term on-the-job training, covering cooks, corrections officers, food service and lodging managers, along with carpenters and construction supervisors.

Fewer than 5 percent of the local high-demand jobs are expected to require a post-secondary degree, such as an associate's degree or vocational training. Among those jobs, the biggest demand will be for licensed practical nurses, medical secretaries and legal secretaries.

Call center jobs also are likely to remain in demand. TeleTech Holdings Inc. is planning to add 180 jobs at its Niagara Falls call center, boosting its employment to 954 people, while International Data Response Corp. is proposing an expansion of its Buffalo call center operations that would add 400 jobs over the next two years.

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