Many companies are struggling to hire despite high unemployment

MIAMI — Ron Brezzell runs the South Florida district for Domino’s Pizza and faces a common problem in almost every location: a lack of people wanting to deliver pizza for a living. In fact, the company needs 300 drivers in South Florida right now.

“I’ve got 47 stores,’’ said Brezzell, director of corporate operations in Domino’s Plantation office. “Not one can honestly say they’re not hiring.”

Landing a job can be hard amid some of the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. But filling jobs can be a challenge, too, as employers find they’re either paying too little or expecting too much even in a region where roughly 260,000 people are designated as unable to find work.

“We frequently get requests for telemarketing workers,” said Sue Romanos, president of CareerXchange, which recruits workers for companies. Telemarketing companies have found it hard to fill positions, despite the tough economy.

“It’s a really tough to job to be on the phone selling eight hours a day,” she said.

In some ways, the severity of the recession complicates the task for hiring managers. By enacting emergency benefits, Congress has allowed the jobless to collect nearly two years worth of unemployment checks, rather than the standard six months. The $275 weekly stipend can sometimes exceed what a worker would make earning Florida’s minimum wage of $7.31 an hour (or $292 a week, before taxes).

Depressed real estate prices also make it harder for workers to relocate where their skills or background are more in demand. Even the overall gloom surrounding the labor market can shrink the pool of qualified applicants, as employed workers assume there’s little hope in looking for a better job.

While off record highs, unemployment remains at crisis levels in South Florida: 9.3 percent in Broward and 13 percent in Miami-Dade. Both were under 5 percent in 2007. Still, 2011 brought a rebound in hiring throughout the region, with payrolls up about 17,000 positions from January.

The August employment report set for release Friday morning will show whether the encouraging trend survived a sharp slowdown in hiring nationwide amid turmoil on Wall Street and fears of a second recession.

Most industries are still digging out from the employment hole left by the recession. Compared to 2007, construction jobs are down between 43 percent in Miami-Dade and 50 percent in Broward, according to federal statistics. The white-collar jobs found in the financial professional categories are off about 13 percent.

Healthcare and education is the only category not to lose any jobs during the recession, with employment up 6 percent in Broward and 10 percent in Miami-Dade. Retail has come close to erasing its losses, while tourism has moved into expansion territory in Miami-Dade (up 5 percent) and even with pre-recession levels in Broward.

While retail and tourism pay some of the lowest wages in the region, even well-paying jobs go unclaimed. Ryder, the trucking company based in Miami, is launching a new campaign to recruit drivers, which have been hard to find even during the downturn.

“The market has fewer drivers than it did five years ago,’’ said John Sonia, a senior vice president of operations at Ryder. “There are more people retiring from trucking as a career than are going into it.’’

Some Ryder drivers earn $100,000, but the career also comes with long stretches away from home and the monotony of driving all day or night. The demands plus the license requirements force Ryder to constantly look for new recruits. Said Sonia: “Drivers today, if they want a job, they can find a job.’’

At AAR Corp., finding qualified workers is also a challenge. The Chicago-based company services commercial airliners at Miami International Airport, said it always has between 20 and 50 openings in Miami, mainly for mechanics and others trained to work on aviation equipment.

“There’s so much doom and gloom about unemployment. But here are the jobs. We just need the right skills,” said Christine Jayne, head of government affairs for the company. “This is a problem for us across the country.”

At Domino’s, becoming a driver requires no specialized training, only a driver’s license. The pay is usually minimum wage, though they can make more with tips. And with pizza in demand day and night, drivers can make their own schedule. “I like it because there are flexible hours,” said Yocasta Valdez, who recently left her job at a day care center to become a new driver at a Domino’s off Eighth Street in downtown Miami.

It’s hard to find takers: Domino’s plans a hiring blitz throughout the region on Sept. 27, with all stores conducting interviews throughout the day. The chain says it needs about 300 drivers and about 50 store managers.

While the pay is low, Domino’s pitches a driver’s job as a good start in a Fortune 500 company.

“We have paid vacation, we have 401(k), we have stock programs,” said Brezzell, the 47-year-old district manager. “I started out as a driver when I was in college.”

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