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Utah jobs going unfilled

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More jobs are going unfilled across Utah as a booming economy increases demand for positions ranging from laborers and truck drivers to civil engineers and pharmacists.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the job vacancy rate for metropolitan Utah increased to 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005, up from 2.1 percent in the same quarter in 2004.

That means for every 100 jobs, nearly three jobs went unfilled in metropolitan Utah, a nine-county area that includes Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Davis, Morgan, Tooele, Wasatch, Summit and Juab counties.

Nate Talley, a research analyst with the department who conducted the study, said the increased job vacancies are causing frustration among small employers and pushing average wages higher.

In metropolitan Utah, the average advertised wage for job openings surveyed climbed to $12.20 an hour, up from $11.20 an hour a year earlier.

"What it tells is there is an increased demand of labor," Talley said. "With an increased demand you would expect to see an increased wage."

Leslie Kirkwood, regional consultant with ResourceMFG, a recruiting firm with offices in Murray and Ogden, said demand is up for machinists, welders, maintenance mechanics and programmers.

"We are having a crisis around the nation for skilled personnel trades-type people," Kirkwood said. "You can talk to any manufacturing company, and they're having a hard time locating these type of fields. It is an employee-driven market right now."

In eastern Utah's Uinta Basin, 5.2 jobs went unfilled of every 100 jobs, the highest job vacancy rate of any region surveyed. The report noted that the Uinta Basin had roughly 900 job openings at any given time in the fourth quarter. The average wage for those jobs was $12.20 an hour.

Bill Johnson, executive director for the Uintah County and Vernal City economic development office, said the oil and natural gas industries are driving job growth, creating a situation in which there are more jobs than people to fill them.

"They're having a devil of a time finding enough employees," Johnson said. "It's at all levels. It's not only those $12 an hour, entry-level positions, but it also includes management and engineer jobs that are very high-paying jobs, up to $100,000 a year jobs. There is just so much activity, and we've got such a small amount of nucleus here that we can't find the people."

Johnson said the higher-paying oil and gas jobs are hurting small retailers and local governments, which can't compete against the higher wages.

Southwestern Utah's job vacancy rate was 5 percent, up from 3.1 percent in 2004. Roughly 3,000 job openings were estimated in the region in the fourth quarter, at an average wage of $11.22 an hour. Nearly 40 percent of those vacant jobs were in the construction and health care industries.

Talley said about 70 percent of the job vacancies along the Wasatch Front and in neighboring counties required no more than a high school diploma.

"It should come as no surprise that the majority of the job openings were generally low-skill, high-turnover occupations," Talley said. "That is not to say that the labor market didn't show the need for higher-skilled employees."

About 40 percent of metropolitan Utah's vacant jobs were open less than 30 days, Talley said, but for highly skilled positions the time was greater. For example, 93 percent of the pharmacist openings — which paid on average $41.60 an hour — were open more than 60 days or were always open.

Talley added that positions for architectural and civil drafters also were open longer than 60 days or were always open.

"Some companies have come on board and know that they have to up their wages," Kirkwood said. "Some companies are going to be left behind if they don't start to look at their pay scales."

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com