Beige Book reports the Chicago area needs specialized workers

By Chelsea Wallis
April 13, 2011 – Medill News Service, Chicago

Vehicle tester Jerome Webb at the Ford production plant in South Chicago takes about 100 vehicles through the five minute "wet test" each shift to test for gaps. The factory changes the whole interior if it gets wet, he said, but it doesn't happen often. (Chelsea Wallis/MNS)

The Chicago area is in need of highly specialized workers, according to a federal resport released Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which measures economic conditions around the country, reported that “Employers in the Boston, Richmond, Chicago and Kansas City districts said they were experiencing difficulty in recruiting highly specialized workers.”

Chicago, along with the New York, Cleveland, Richmond and Minneapolis federal reserve districts saw upbeat reports from staffing agencies, and there were increases in both job posting and hiring of temporary and permanent employees. The Chicago district covers Iowa and most of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The upbeat findings contrasted with another report released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute, a private research organization, stating that the February ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 4.4-to-1, meanning there were simply no jobs for three out of four unemployed workers. However, this is a substantial improvement on December, when the ratio was 5.1-to-1.

The Federal Reserve did not specify what specialized jobs were vacant. However, it noted that manufacturing increased in all 12 Federal Reserve districts.

The report said manufacturing was strong in the steel, auto and heavy equipment sectors. In particular, there was an increase in productivity in auto and auto parts where some orders were becoming backlogged.

“The auto industry isn’t what it was 20 years ago,” observed Adolfo Laurenti, deputy chief economist and Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc., in Chicago. “Large auto parts suppliers have become sophisiticated.”

He explained: “There is a real premium demand for a college education in specific computer skills for both white collar and blue collar jobs.”

Many manufacturing technicians now operate assembly lines from behind a computer, and Laurenti says it’s hard to find people with the right skills.

The same companies are also looking for staff that can manage business relations across borders with both linguistic and cultural skill, he said.

The report indicated the Chicago and Dallas districts are seeing more inflation pressure than the rest of the country, said Asha Bangalore, senior vice president and economist for Northern Trust Corp.

“Places like Chicago have a heavy manufacturing base, not a service industry base like Boston or New York,” said Laurenti. Manufacturing economies rely on commodities prices, he said, and a big factor pressuring inflation is the rising cost of raw materials and energy.

The next Beige Book release is June 8.

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