High Unemployment and State Jobs Go Begging? Not Quite

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CARSON CITY, NV - "Many State Jobs in Nevada Go Begging."

The Las Vegas Review Journal headline had many people scratching their heads. Unemployment is high. There's no hiring freeze. Some people have been looking for some time, yet it appeared state jobs were going left unfilled for lack of applicants.

That's not quite the story.

It's true the state lists nearly 1,500 job opportunities. That means 8.8% of state jobs are currently unfilled.

But State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says that's not unusual.

"Right now our vacancy rates are at or near where they have been for the past five years."

That means at any one time, past or present, we might expect to find as many as one in 11 state jobs open.

Currently there are about 120 available at one of the state government's biggest employers, the Department of Transportation.

"Among those jobs, some of jobs are being filled right now," says NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder. "Some people have just retired, so some of the jobs are just being advertised for. We have very few jobs that have been open for six months."

Magruder adds that the figures don't show seasonal hirings, highway maintenance in the summer, snow removal personnel in the winter. NDOT, he says, just hired 100 temporary workers.

Both men say there are plenty of applicants, perhaps more than in recent years, as you might expect. That doesn't mean there aren't challenges.

For NDOT, for instance, finding equipment drivers in the rurals is a problem.

"If you've got a CDL, a commercial driver's license, you're pretty much going to go to work for the mines at two to three times the state's starting salary," says Magruder.

And medical personnel they say are hard to find here and elsewhere.

Everything else being equal, state government employment might not be as attractive as it once was. Budget cuts have taken their toll.

"When you start here, you're going to start off with a furlough," says Magruder. "That means for the next year you're going to have to take six furloughs, that's six days without pay. There's no merit increases. No longevity pay."

But as Mohlenkamp points out, those working in the private sector have had their sacrifices too and at the moment in this economy that's less of a competitive disadvantage.

"When the economy improves," he says, "we may have to take a look at compensation."

Still, he admits, with unemployment so high, the state needs to do better by working faster.

"What we're trying to do is reduce the time to fill a position, thereby reducing the number of vacancies we have over all."