Job market is slow to recover in Kitsap

Ernest Ranuio, a table games dealer at the Clearwater Casino, works for Port Madison Enterprises, which is one of the few companies hiring in North Kitsap. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
Ernest Ranuio, a table games dealer at the Clearwater Casino, works for Port Madison Enterprises, which is one of the few companies hiring in North Kitsap.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

POULSBO — Ernest Ranuio is an affable guy with uncanny comedic timing. A skilled conversationalist, he has a knack for making whomever he’s speaking to feel like they’re the center of the universe. When it comes down to it, he’s a perfect match for his job as a table games dealer at the Clearwater Casino.

“Some days I can’t believe they pay me to do what I do. Other days they can’t pay me enough,” he said.

Ranuio is one of the lucky ones in North Kitsap: he’s gainfully employed and has a job he loves. He’s also working for one of the few businesses, Port Madison Enterprises, actively recruiting to fill open positions.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, the trend has been for companies to scale down their workforces, or cut back on their employees’ hours to save their bottom line. Now, economic indicators — stock prices, housing sales and others — are looking up, but the jobs are slow to follow, said Elizabeth Scott, a regional labor economist with the state Economic Security Department.

Kitsap County saw a slight downtick in its unemployment rate in June, when it dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.7 percent in May, Scott said. That statistic reflects only the number of people in the county who are employed, not those who are collecting unemployment benefits. Currently, about 8,900 are unemployed in Kitsap County and 30 percent of them are receiving unemployment benefits.

In June, about 300 new jobs were created in Kitsap County in construction, retail and recreation/leisure, she said. On the flip side, 200 jobs were lost; the lost jobs were primarily the temporary census positions which ended in June.

The age group hardest hit by the shrinking job market, Scott said, is the 21 and younger group.

Dakota Dillon is in the middle of the financial storm. At 17, his job experience lies in physical labor like landscaping and construction. Those jobs, however, withered away in Kitsap when the housing bubble burst in 2008.

“I like to work with my hands, just to see what I can do,” Dillon said. “I work for a couple of days, then that job ends, then I find something else through word of mouth.”

Now, he finds himself in the midst of generation of young adults who should be, and want to be, in the workforce. But the deck is stacked against them. They have no real-world work experience so they should be filling minimum wage positions – positions now occupied by older Americans who were either forced out of the job market because of downsizing or were forced back into the job market when their retirement funds tanked.

Earlier this week, he sought assistance in finding a job in Kitsap’s hidden job market – the jobs that are not advertised and require a specific skill set to fill them. For that, he went to Bob Middlebrook, executive director of Sound Works Job Center in Poulsbo.

“There are jobs out there, but people don’t know they’re there,” Middlebrook said. He currently has about 1,200 jobs filed away in white three-ring binders.

Most of Middlebrook’s available jobs are at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and require clean credit and no criminal record.

Middlebrook acts as the intermediary between the job seeker and the employer and works closely with another job-finding service in Poulsbo, Express Employment Professionals.

Wayne Sargent, Express franchise owner, said there are jobs available but those who have been unemployed for a long period of time sometimes lack necessary skills. Sometimes even those who are skilled and hired aren’t a good fit for the job they sought, putting them back in the ranks of the unemployed.

“You’re hired for what you know and fired for who you are,” Sargent said. “You can’t make it to work on time, you can’t get along with people at work or your production isn’t up to par. ”

Though statistics are looking up, he said those don’t matter to the unemployed.

“If you are unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100 percent,” he said.

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