Jersey Works: Where the Jobs Are

While the state lags others in job growth, many NJ companies are hiring. We tell you which skills are in demand—and why.

Illustration by Rollin McGrail

After being laid off from two pharma jobs, Randy Williams decided it was time to make his health a priority. Embracing vegetarianism, he dropped 70 pounds. Then he learned his favorite supermarket was hiring. “I was a pretty passionate advocate for what Whole Foods stands for because I saw the results in myself,” says the veteran retail manager. He saw an opportunity and pounced.

Williams began his career straight out of Arizona State University when he was hired as an assistant manager of a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store. In seven years, he helped open 11 stores in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas but realized he wasn’t spending enough time with his growing family. “I didn’t have that work-life balance,” he says.

After moving to Paramus to be closer to his wife’s family, Williams landed a job with a pharmaceuticals company selling diabetes and hypertension medication. But he quickly became discouraged. “As a pharma rep, I would walk in and doctors would just sign for samples and not engage me, not really give me the time of day,” he says. Then the Great Recession hit, and Williams was laid off from that and then a second pharma job. “I took a step back and said, ‘This really isn’t an industry I want to be in,’” he says.

After a brief stint managing a Starbucks in Fort Lee, Williams was hired last year as assistant store manager of the Whole Foods Market in Ridgewood. He finally feels satisfied and secure in his work. “You have to love what you do,” he says. “I believe in what I do here.”

Williams was one of about 240,600 people in New Jersey’s private sector who lost their jobs in the nationwide economic downturn that followed the housing market crash of 2007. Technically speaking, the recession ended in 2009, after federal stimulus policies stabilized the economy. However, jobless numbers continued to climb even as the economy began to improve. In February 2010, unemployment in the Garden State reached a high of 9.7 percent, the worst level since 1976. After unemployment hit that high, New Jersey added 155,100 private sector jobs. The public sector has added 16,200 positions since reaching its low point in August 2011. The jobless rate remained relatively flat until August 2012, but slowly declined to 7.8 percent in November 2013. However, New Jersey still lags behind the national unemployment rate of 7 percent.

New Jersey is expected to keep creating jobs this year, and observers are heartened that the strengthening of the state’s economy seems broad based. “It isn’t being driven by just one or two industry sectors,” says Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which has about 21,000 member companies from multiple industries. “It’s being driven by just about all of them. That’s one of the reasons we are very happy about it.”

After several years of restraint, businesses seem ready to hire. A recent NJBIA survey shows optimism among its members. “There’s more confidence in the economy among employers than there’s been at any time since the Great Recession,” says Kirschner. “They’re reacting to facts on the ground. They see more consistent demand for their products or their services, and when that builds up, obviously, there is a need for more people to help make sure that their customers get the kind of products or services they require.”

The good news does not extend to all industries. Notably, the pharmaceutical industry is not driving economic growth the way it once did. Facing expiring patents and rising costs of research and development, New Jersey’s pharmaceutical companies shed 23 percent of their workforce, or about 15,160 jobs, from 2007 to 2012, according to state data. Some of the cuts can be ascribed to consolidation, including the giant mergers of Pfizer with Wyeth and Merck with Schering-Plough. Last year, Merck announced plans to begin shutting down its Summit and Whitehouse Station campuses and consolidating its headquarters in Kenilworth, part of the company’s restructuring plan that is expected to result in the loss of about 20 percent of its workforce worldwide. And the departure of Roche from Nutley at the end of 2013 came at the cost of about 1,000 jobs.

Other industries are taking up some of the slack. Health care continues to be the leader in job growth, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Other sectors showing the most promise for job seekers (as defined, sometimes awkwardly, by the state labor department) are trade, transportation and utilities (which includes retailing, warehousing and distribution); professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and the construction trade.

Here’s a look at the state’s five leading sectors for job growth:

HEALTH CARE

Not Even the Great Recession could stunt the growth of New Jersey’s health care industry. “We are seeing an aging of the population,” says Adrienne Kirby, president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care in Camden. That means a greater demand for treatment of chronic conditions and diseases such as cancer. People in the Northeast in general also tend to consume more health care services than those in other parts of the country, Kirby says.

What’s more, the Affordable Care Act is expected to further boost the demand for services. “There’s no way the industry is not going to expand, given more people will be covered,” says James W. Hughes, the dean of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

More health care services will require more health care workers. “There is a prediction that there is going to be a shortage of physicians and nurses within the next 20 years,” says Kirby. That is part of the reason Cooper teamed with Rowan University in 2012 to open a medical school next to its main hospital in Camden.

The demand for registered nurses was more than double that of any other health care position in New Jersey from December 2012 through November 2013, according to data collected by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development through its partnership with the research firm Burning Glass Technologies. Next most sought were medical and health-services managers.

“Health care managers are in extreme demand, especially because of all the changes in the field,” says one of Cooper’s recent hires, Michael Kalfin, the director of operations at the new MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Health care managers are really trying to figure out how hospitals can reduce cost and become more efficient while also staying competitive and increasing the quality of care.”

After enrolling at Pennsylvania State University, Kalfin quickly became enamored of health administration as a career goal. “There are just so many changes, so many things to learn each day, that no two days are the same,” he says. “You are going to meet and work with people who have all different education and experience levels.”

Kalfin, 28, has a master’s in public health from Boston University, but many jobs in the field that don’t require advanced degrees—such as medical assistants, nursing assistants and home health aides—are also in demand. “There’s always a need for people with specialized skills in operating medical equipment and doing x-rays and ultrasound testing,” says Scott Schnierer, president of Uniforce Staffing Solutions in Paramus. Those jobs, he adds, usually require an associate or vocational degree.

Opportunities also can be found in related fields such as medical research and law. “When the sector grows, jobs grow across the spectrum,” says Kirby.

While smaller hospitals in New Jersey are struggling to keep pace financially, several larger hospitals are expanding. “There is a lot of competition in the health care field,” says Hughes. “It’s almost like an arms race to get the latest equipment.” He adds that many hospitals have opened ancillary facilities for surgery or medical testing, thereby creating jobs.

Cooper is among the hospital groups expanding. “We’ve spent some time really thinking strategically around which programs are we really going to focus resources in,” says Kirby. Cooper opened urgent care centers in Cherry Hill in 2012 and Audubon in 2013; added a surgical specialties office and women’s health center to its Voorhees campus in 2013; and built the new Camden cancer center— in partnership with a renowned program at the University of Texas—in October 2013. Cooper plans to expand its main hospital by July to add 60 new private rooms. “It’s good news for jobs,” says Kirby. Cooper added 200 jobs since 2012, bringing its workforce to more than 5,900 employees. This year, it expects to hire about 100 more people, including support staff, dieticians, pharmacists and physicians.

Elsewhere, Hackensack University Medical Center’s new Pascack Valley campus created about 300 jobs in 2013. Looking ahead, Memorial Sloan-Kettering will need to staff a new cancer center it plans to open at the former Lucent Technologies building in Middleton in 2015 or 2016.

TRADE, TRANSPORTATION & UTILITIES

The Great Recession brought retail to a standstill. “For a while, there was kind of a lull,” says Sandra Bleckman, director of the Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Talent Network of Northern New Jersey, a partnership of state, academia and employers to facilitate a qualified and productive workforce. Though most shoppers remain cautious about luxury purchases, retail sales overall are on the rise—and so are retail jobs. In fact, the skill in greatest demand in New Jersey job postings throughout 2013 was sales, according to data from the state. Also in demand: managers of retail salespeople.

Retailers traditionally hire sales help part-time with the chance to advance to full-time. But January’s increase in the state minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate on employer-supplied health care are limiting full-time opportunities. “The trends are definitely changing,” says Caitlyn Weiss, director of the Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Talent Network of South Jersey. Established retailers will still offer core employees good pay and benefits, possibly even a 401K, but many people starting in retail should now expect to work just 25 to 30 hours a week, Weiss says.

That’s not to say a job in retail lacks potential. “What I have been telling all the job seekers is don’t discredit anything,” Weiss says. “It buys an opportunity to gain experience, open your network, reach a little bit more, and it’s a great placeholder while you find that next step.”

Bleckman has helped several retail brands recruit for positions at New Jersey malls. “Stores are opening and expanding,” she says. Malls across the state are renovating and adding space. In March, the Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus plans to open a new two-story, 55,000-square-foot wing for retailers such as clothiers Vince Camuto and Tory Burch, as well as a 3,744 -square-foot Microsoft store. Microsoft also opened retail stores at Bridgewater Commons and Freehold Raceway Mall in 2012.

“Retail is thriving,” says Bleckman. Electronics and technology stores are particularly strong. “People want to be updated,” she says. “They want to have that next MacBook or iPad or whatever it might be.”

In food retail, the Texas-based Whole Foods Market has found a lucrative niche in New Jersey. “You are seeing a lot of energy and education among people about natural and organic foods,” says Michael Sinatra, a company spokesperson. Already operating 10 stores from Bergen to Burlington counties, the company plans to open seven more by 2016.

“It’s finding the right real estate opportunities and the right locations that people can easily access and where we can find great team members,” Sinatra explains. A new store creates about 200 jobs—some to be filled by upwardly mobile Whole Foods employees. The chain is known to promote from within, and many employees start working as a cashier or stocking shelves. “We really do believe the jobs that we offer are career opportunities,” says Sinatra.

As retail grows, so do ancillary fields. “A lot of goods and people move through the state, so we are continuing to see growth in truck drivers and warehouse positions,” says Aaron Fichtner, deputy commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In fact, tractor-trailer truck driver was the third highest job in demand in this sector last year.

C.R. England, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, posted more than 200 New Jersey jobs online from April to September 2013. The company specializes in refrigerated freight, which helps it ride out tough times. “People always need food; they always need medicine; they need all the refrigerated items that we carry,” says Steve Branch, C.R. England’s director of advertising and recruiting. But, he adds, “it all starts with the driver”—and making sure the company hires the right people. Most trucking companies look for drivers with at least two years experience and a clean driving record.

Jobs at warehouses, which tend to pay better than retail sales positions, says Hughes, are also increasing. Amazon is constructing a 1 million-square-foot warehouse in Robbinsville that will create hundreds of jobs when it opens later this year. Employees will pick, pack and ship orders from the $200 million-plus facility. Why Jersey? “We want to make sure a fulfillment center is placed as close to the customer as possible,” says Nina Lindsey, a company spokesperson. “Also, we look closely at the local workforce, and we expect to find great talent in abundance in New Jersey.”

PROFESSIONAL & BUSINESS SERVICES

Aldo Lopez feared he would spoil his hobby if he made it his work. But when the history major finished his first computer science project, an encrypted message reader, he was hooked. “I actually got something working on a screen, something that I could show off and have people in awe,” he says. “I was like, Yeah, this is what I want to do.”

Software developers, particularly those who create cell phone applications, were highest in demand in the professional and business-services sector of the New Jersey economy from December 2012 through November 2013, according to state data. Also ranked near the top were computer systems analysts; lawyers; managers; wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives; and customer service representatives.

The sector lumps together companies offering services such as security, accounting, consulting, design and research—pretty much any professional, scientific or technical service. The sector added approximately 19,200 jobs between October 2011 and October 2013.

Among New Jersey’s growing tech companies, Matawan-based iCIMS, a web-based software service for recruiters and human-resource professionals, last year added a 13,500-square-foot center for research and development. Further expansion is expected. “We are planning for high growth in the next five years,” says senior director of marketing Erinn Tarpey. Last year, the company filled 93 new full-time positions and plans to add 100 more in 2014, including jobs in sales, finance, professional services and human resources. “Some positions require a certain level of experience, and others are meant for people looking to kick-start their careers,” Tarpey says.

Another service-based business, Source4Teachers, works with public school districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to find substitute teachers, teachers’ assistants, secretaries, custodians and food-service workers. The Cherry Hill-based company—number two on an NJBIZ list of the state’s fastest-growing companies by revenue—more than doubled its corporate workforce in the past two years and plans to expand to another three states this year. “We create…efficiencies and cost savings for the school districts,” says senior vice president Andrew Hall.

Just as service businesses thrive by helping clients become more efficient and innovative, individual employees can succeed by helping their employers do the same. “The value today,” says Hughes, “is new ideas, creativity, making the organization work better, thinking of better products and the like.”

LEISURE & HOSPITALITY

“In this field, we find that a lot of jobs start entry level, but employers promote from within,” says Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Talent Network’s Bleckman. “Almost every general manager I have met in a hotel started either doing laundry or at the front desk.”

Restaurants and hotels make up most of New Jersey’s leisure and hospitality sector, which added approximately 20,200 jobs in the 12 months ending November 2013, according to the state. Food service dominated the job postings—specifically food preparation supervisors; food-service managers; and workers who combine food prep and service (think Starbucks baristas). As always, cooks and waitstaff are in demand.

Growth in this sector shows that people are spending more discretionary dollars on eating out. “You always see that in an economic recovery,” says Hughes. It may also imply that people, rather than take a full-fledged vacation, economize by settling for a night out.

“Restaurants have made a strong comeback, but I wouldn’t call it boom time,” says Grant Halliday, director of operations at the Harvest Restaurant Group, known for its Roots Steakhouse locations in Summit and Morristown. This year, Harvest plans to open a Roots in Ridgewood and a restaurant in Westfield. “We’ve had continued growth,” says Halliday, “but that comes from planning, hard work and listening to your guest base.”

Despite being hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, McLoone’s Restaurants—with four of its nine establishments in Monmouth County—has stuck with its plans for growth. McLoone’s Rum Runner, overlooking the Shrewsbury River in Sea Bright, was destroyed in the storm, and two other locations were closed for weeks. “Any number of companies would have decided to hang things up…but that’s just not in our DNA,” says company president Tim McMahon. Owner Tim McLoone and his team plan to open new restaurants in Hoboken and Hillsborough in 2014 and a redesigned and rebuilt Rum Runner in 2015. “We’ve done a ton of hiring in the last nine months,” says McMahon. Another 100 new hires should come aboard this year.

“The hardest position to fill,” McMahon notes, “is a qualified chef. It’s a high-pressure job.” Today’s chefs, he explains, need to be computer savvy, efficient with inventory and cost control and have strong management skills. As for waitstaff, “what you are looking for is hopefully somebody with the drive and desire to stay in the industry and get experience to move up, as opposed to somebody who is just trying to make that money.”

Less growth was shown in New Jersey hotels, motels and resorts; however, there is demand for desk clerks, maids and housekeepers, and general and operations managers.

While many hotel jobs down the Shore are seasonal, Bleckman says hotels in North Jersey are adding or upgrading their restaurants to attract more guests. “These businesses are always reinventing themselves,” she says. “As a job seeker, keep up with those trends and know the industry.”

(Read about LaTrecse Bellamy, a recent hire within the hospitality sector.)

CONSTRUCTION

Care to trade in your laptop for a tool belt? New Jersey’s construction industry is revving up, and needs electricians, plumbers, carpenters and welders.

“We are losing a generation of people who were very skilled in the trades, and we have not been able to replace them at the same rate with today’s generation,” says the NJBIA’s Kirschner. The push for college education, he adds, has left well-paying blue-collar jobs highly available.

The trade group’s 2014 Business Outlook Survey indicates that, for the first time since 2007, employers are optimistic about the future. They expect higher profits, and that means hiring more help. “We’ve always believed you cannot have a full recovery without the housing and construction industry making a comeback,” Kirschner says. “It is an indicator because it impacts so many other industries, whether you are talking about suppliers and vendors, anything from flooring to HVAC to furniture and carpeting, and the bankers who give mortgages.”

The sector added 3,000 jobs between October 2011 and October 2013, according to state data. The rise in commercial and residential construction follows several tough years brought on by the housing market crash of 2007. Employers put off office renovation and expansion, while home buyers hunkered down and stayed put.

With a more stable economy, the housing market is coming back. “We reached a point where people feel better about their positions, more secure, and maybe decided that interest rates and prices probably have gone down as much as they are going to go, and they are on the upswing,” Kirschner says. An increase in commercial construction suggests that businesses, too, are feeling more secure and looking to hire.

“Unless I have more employees to house,” he explains, “I don’t need new space.”

Electricians were highest in demand in New Jersey’s construction sector from December 2012 through November 2013. “At the height of the recession, without exaggeration, 30 to 40 percent of [electricians] were idle,” Kirschner says. “That’s a terrible number; but now, my understanding is you can’t get enough of them.”

Also in demand are general maintenance and repair workers; construction managers; heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers; and civil engineers.

Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania-based luxury-home builder operating in New Jersey and 18 other states, is seeking a range of workers from sales-center greeter to project manager. Last year, when the company sold about 500 homes in New Jersey—up from about 300 in 2012—Toll Brothers hired 65 people, mostly in sales, land development and project management. This year, the firm is looking to hire another 20 to 30 people in New Jersey. (Read about Nabeel Naqvi, a recent hire at Toll Brothers.)

Known for building single-family houses as well as multiunit projects like Maxwell Place and the Hudson Tea building in Hoboken, Toll Brothers is currently selling homes in 17 suburban and four urban communities in New Jersey. It remains bullish. “There are more new projects coming up in New Jersey than are winding down,” says group president Chris Gaffney. He says the company has benefited from the rebound in the stock market and consumer confidence.

More projects, Gaffney notes, means opportunities for its subcontractors. “They also need to hire in order to keep up with sales pace and demand.”

Though construction is looking up, permits for new construction in New Jersey, he notes, are still much lower than they were before the housing crash.

It’s all part of the shifting reality of the marketplace in New Jersey—a marketplace that, despite certain caveats, looks increasingly promising for job seekers.

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