Energy and tech jobs: where job hiring is (finally) happening

Postings for tech jobs were up 30 percent last month compared with a year ago, according to Craigslist. Job hiring already resulted in upbeat employment numbers last week.

By , / Staff writer

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    Installers for SolarCity set up solar electric panels on the roof of a home in Palo Alto, Calif. With rising oil prices, SolarCity sees opportunity for growth and plans to add hundreds of workers.
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SolarCity, a fast-growing provider of alternative energy, hopes to hire 600 more employees this year.

Eventbrite – which uses mobile devices to market, sell, and e-print tickets for events such as concerts – plans to add 70 tech-savvy people to its workforce this year.

With sales strong, DecoArt, a manufacturer of acrylic paints, wants to beef up its staff by hiring nine additional workers.

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Yes, energy firms, high-tech businesses, and even some manufacturing companies are expected to be among the bright spots in hiring this year. Most in demand are skilled laborers (for example, those who can run a complex piece of machinery), salespeople, engineers, and computer whizzes.

The expected uptick in hiring is a welcome development after stubbornly high unemployment rates.

"Overall the US job market is as strong now as we have seen it since the onset of the recession," e-mails Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer of Craigslist, the website that publishes millions of job listings.

The monthly employment numbers gathered by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are beginning to improve. After adding only 68,000 jobs in January, the economy tacked on 194,000 in February and 216,000 last month. In March, the unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point, to 8.8 percent.

In February, according to the BLS, 27 states and the District of Columbia experienced a drop in their unemployment rates, while only seven saw them rise. (The remaining 16 states had no change.)

Some reports seem to indicate the trend will continue. A February KPMG survey of 6,000 senior executives found that 41 percent of those involved in manufacturing expected to increase employment at their companies, up from 28 percent in October. Much of the increase is because businesses are beginning to shift from cost cutting to growth, says Lynne Doughtie, KPMG national managing partner in New York.

"What we are seeing from talking with our clients is a needed buildup of inventory to meet new market demand," Ms. Doughtie says. "More executives think they have to hire more to get this capacity back in the system."

In the case of manufacturing, this is coming after a huge number of layoffs, points out Dan Meckstroth, chief economist at the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI in Arlington, Va. During the recession, 2.28 million workers in manufacturing lost their jobs, and only 186,000 new manufacturing positions have been added in the past 14 months.

"There has been some job growth, with the best of it coming in durable goods, in many cases related to the automotive rebound," Mr. Meckstroth says.

Some of the job growth is also related to businesses believing this is a good time to expand. That's the case at DecoArt, a privately owned company in Stanford, Ky., which saw sales grow 20 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.

"A good portion of that growth is attributed to new product development," says David Clifford, chief operating officer. For example, the company now makes enamels that have a 3-D look and adhere to glass. As DecoArt's sales of such new products have grown, it has needed additional salespeople, administrators, and workers for its paint-bottling operations, Mr. Clifford says.

A March survey of chief financial officers by Duke University/CFO Magazine found that hiring will be expanding in the transportation and energy sectors. The energy sector will be particularly active, says Kate O'Sullivan, deputy editor of the magazine.

"Between the alternative- and traditional-fuel companies, and with the price of energy right now, there is a lot of dynamism and space for more activity," she says.

That is what's happening at SolarCity. Based in San Mateo, Calif., the company installs solar panels on homeowners' roofs in 10 states. With oil prices rising and solar energy still having a relatively low market penetration, Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's CEO, smells opportunity.

The company, he says, hired more than 500 people last year and plans to add more than that this year. "We're hiring salespeople, administrators, support staff, installers," says Mr. Rive.

The job market is even hotter in the high-tech world. According to Craigslist, tech job offerings in March were up 30 percent compared with a year ago. New hires are reportedly receiving big signing bonuses, stock options, and perks such as free food.

"I know people are throwing a lot of money around," says Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite, which is based in San Francisco. "It's definitely competitive."

To attract people, Ms. Hartz says she is less inclined to stuff their pockets with money but instead is offering benefits such as four catered lunches a week and two catered breakfasts.

Hartz is hoping this kind of culture will help entice engineers and sales and marketing people. "We are always looking for new talent," she says.

According to Monster.com, marketing jobs rank fifth in terms of occupations where hiring has picked up. The rise in marketers is partly because, as companies see the economy improving, they start to develop new products or use new ways of communicating with consumers.

MSCO, based in Rye Brook, N.Y., works on marketing and business strategies for other companies. CEO Mark Stevens says he has set a goal of doubling the size of the firm this year. The staff is currently 40 strong.

"We need people who know the social media and the Internet and understand the connectivity between the two types of marketing initiatives," says Mr. Stevens. "We need people with a diverse mix of skills."

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