Job Growth Strong in Diversified San Diego

San Diego “tops the nation in new online job ads,” according to the Conference Board.

The new report shows that San Diego’s 3.66 job ads per 100 persons in the labor force is higher than San Francisco (3.48) Seattle-Tacoma (3.58), Boston (3.5), and Washington, D.C. (3.26). Gad Levanon, a Conference Board economist, says that the results may be slightly skewed toward cities with highly skilled workforces where companies post more of their jobs online.

Meanwhile, Manpower’s outlook, which came out last week, showed that 45 percent of San Diego companies plan to hire more people from July to September, 43 percent will hold steady, and 10 percent expect to cut headcount.

Jim Donnelly is a staffing manager/HR manager for Northrop Grumman Space Technology, which has bought five San Diego companies in the last five or six years. Donnelly says that although a few area companies are announcing layoffs, or are moving facilities to the East Coast and elsewhere, the local economy is strong.

Donnelly moved to San Diego in 1983 and recalls how after the Cold War ended and the city’s defense companies shrunk, San Diego diversified. “Pharma, biomedical, defense, tourism — it’s not just a one-industry type of town,” Donnelly says.

He says that one reason for the strong economy is

the talent supplied by the University of California/San Diego, which U.S. News ranks as one of the nation’s best engineering schools.

As for the long-standing view that San Diego employees earn lower wages because the city is such a desired place to live, Donnelly says, “I think we’ve caught up to the LA wages, just a little behind the LA wages. People are paid OK. They’re not above the New York people, the San Francisco people, the Hawaii people, but it’s better.”

Mark Roachell, a finance recruiter for Kaiser Permanente, jokes that San Diegans refer to the hard-to-budge local wages as a “sunshine tax.” Says Roachell: “You don’t get paid quite as much as LA, but it’s better to live down here. San Diego is always an attractive place to live, but because it’s expensive to live down here, it’s hard to get people down to San Diego.”

Kaiser has a large presence in California; it has 500,000 members and 21 clinics in San Diego, and is hiring CPAs, health care finance management experts, and others.

It implemented the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting law, even though it didn’t have to because it’s not a public company. Finding candidates with expertise in the law is tough. “Finance is incredibly hot right now,” Roachell says. “We can’t offer shares or equity or anything like that. We don’t have stock options. What we offer people is, hopefully, a better lifestyle. [But] a lot of finance people are looking to make a buck.”

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To find candidates, Roachell and colleagues are using many approaches. “People are going to hate me for saying this, but Monster always provides the volume. It works. There are good candidates out there on Monster; you just need to search it, you just need to work it. You’ve got to provide the elbow grease to go through and do your due diligence on candidates.”

Roachell has also had success with the Healthcare Financial Management Association and with the American College of Healthcare Executives (“a close second,” he says).

The employee referral program at Kaiser is generating about 30 to 40 percent of new hires, Roachell says. The organization recently held a “career day” in Pasadena. MBA students from all over southern California came to “hear how diverse we are ? physician groups, insurance groups, hospitals. We have a lot of different types of positions in our organization. The problem is that we don’t offer stock options, but there’s a lot of room to grow here.”

Kaiser’s also trying a finance/accounting internship program, something it hasn’t done in the past.

Amy Moser, vice president of the executive search division at TriStaff, a recruiting firm, says the job market has picked up over the last 18 months, but particularly since January. “The technology market is doing very well,” she says, “which is a nice thing to see happen after the dot-com crash. Construction is probably starting to level off a little. The medical products industry is continuing its strength. Biotech is holding its own, although it doesn’t have the same level of venture capital as it used to.”

She says that instead of doing “traditional headhunting,” her firm now how has to do a “combination of traditional headhunting, postings, searching websites — we just have to do a lot more and a lot faster. Our job becomes even more challenging.”

Monster, she says, “is less successful than in the past. It’s such a generalized catch-all; if you’re in a specialty you’re starting to focus on specialty boards,” like Dice. She also uses the MIT Forum, which has chapters around the country.?

Roachell, from Kaiser, says that even though the Cold War is over, the town is still quite influenced by Pentagon budgets. “San Diego is stronger now than normal because we’re a military town. They are recruiting heavily throughout the county for people. The market’s pretty tough for talent because of that — the big boom in all the military. There are a lot of opportunities down here.”

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