Measuring the Labor Market in Detroit

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From , WDET Detroit Public Radio and

If you go by the numbers, it would seem that things are looking up for Michigan’s engineers and other professionals. According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Development, the automotive sector added jobs between December 2009 and the end of 2010. Although the overall number of jobs is still much lower than pre-recession numbers, graphs suggest that the gap between “supply” and “demand” is getting significantly smaller. 

However, at a recent job fair in Novi, MI, hundreds of people filed into a conference center with resume in hand. The fair featured 40 companies and around 2,500 potential jobs representing several industries. Jamie Cox works in HR at General Motors, and says that GM is hiring. “We look for electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, pretty much any background,” she says, noting the wide range of opportunities within the company.

At the fair, Jim Nault stood in the GM line. An accountant, Nault was laid off from Borders this January after 14 years with the Ann Arbor based-retailed, and is finding the job search frustrating. “You’ve got all the companies out there looking for that perfect candidate for their role and if you don’t have exactly what their looking for, it’s on to the next person,” he explains.

Nault chalks his frustration up to “the nature of the market.” He says there are still a lot more candidates than jobs. Even so, Nault says he is still optimistic. “From what people are telling me, the climate is getting better out there. One agency I spoke with said they placed more people in the first two months of the year than they did in the fourth quarter of last year, so that’s a promising sign.”

Tyson Cowles, who was laid off by GM two years ago, believes that unemployed professionals are an underserved community. “There are not many places where professionals can get help,” says Cowles. “So many of us have been in jobs for most of our lives, the majority of us are at least over 40, and you know, you can find lots of free classes in beginner Microsoft Word, but we already know that.”

Cowles isn’t sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. He belongs to a networking group in Lansing that meets weekly at the Michigan Works Office. So far the group has found 67 jobs for members. However, Cowles says he can’t be sure that the current job market is getting better, although it does feel different than it did a year or two ago. “Yes, it seems like there is more activity, but I’m still not working,” he says, laughing. ”So once I get a job, I’ll say it’s doing much better.”