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Where the Jobs Are 

Local employers discuss how to build a successful career in the local market.

It's a reality in today's current job market, no matter if you're in the New Orleans area or in some of the most robust local economies across America: layoffs, hiring freezes and unemployment are factors that must be faced -- and prepared for.

Currently, the country's high unemployment rate is hovering around 6.2 percent, as of the end of July. Businesses are still cutting jobs and reorganizing, and it's the summertime, with the busy hiring season usually picking up in mid-September. All these factors spell a longer job search cycle -- and a lot of people out of work for longer than they are emotionally, spiritually -- and yes -- financially capable.

Local employers agree that establishing yourself within a career brings reliability and economic security. Everyone knows that "experience" typically trumps other facets of your resume when it comes to applying for an open position. If you've held jobs performing similar duties for companies that are alike in practice and philosophy, then you hold an edge over the other applicants. And you can safely assume that these applicants are just as hungry for the job -- and paycheck -- as you are.

Not every career is found just because of its employment advantages. Some are a life calling. Others suit a lifestyle and bring you to a work atmosphere of people you like and with whom you'll bond. For many employees, these friendships make the working day so much more bearable -- fun, even. Deciding for yourself what career best suits you is, obviously, a personal question that is answered by consulting a varied list of criteria, including family needs, personal desires, and education and employment backgrounds.

Locally, the hospitality industry is the main employer and offers countless jobs and career opportunities. For this reason, hospitality is a local "growth career," a field in which steady employment can be easily found, and chances for advancement and a suitable income are both good.

Besides hospitality work -- a broad umbrella that includes everything from bartenders to bell hops, concierges to chefs -- the medical field is always in demand of quality workers, with hospitals giving huge incentives for nurses in the face of a national nursing shortage that is predicted to last for decades. As a result of the incredible demand for nurses, many hospitals are sponsoring students through school, paying for nursing school tuition and other expenses in exchange for a multi-year work contract. Local health officials estimate that there are anywhere from 900 to 1,000 vacant registered nurse (RN) positions on a given day, a deficit that represents roughly 13 percent of the total nurses working in metropolitan New Orleans.

Finally, the high-tech industry is working hard to make in-roads into the local economy. Among these efforts are several joint projects at the University of New Orleans, which in concert are attempting to make high-tech a burgeoning area.

Three local employers demonstrate, through their work histories and self-made successes, how choosing a career and determination to rise above can lead to happiness -- at work and in life.

Glenn Michael's path to success as owner of the sleek, popular Glenn Michael's Beauty Cafe began as a teenager when his sage older brother told him to "stop looking like a geek" and upgrade from the barber shop to the beauty salon.

"I walk into this salon, it's filled with all young people and the atmosphere is just incredible," Michael recalls. "They had a gorgeous girl shampooing your hair; at the barber shop, you'd never see a beautiful girl, let alone somebody to wash your hair. I went from a Superman comic book to Playboy."

Michael remembered this inspiration when he switched from being a professional singer holding a degree in education to enrolling in beauty school. Before that point, he had never styled anyone's hair. He's now been a salon owner for 26 years, and recently transformed his namesake salon on Metairie Road into a cutting-edge concept that offers gourmet coffees and teas, with food from a full-service kitchen that prepares choices such as shrimp and tuna salads and club sandwiches.

"When people are looking for a career choice in the salon industry, even before the question of your technical skills, you must be a people person," Michael says. "It's not just being a great communicator, but also a great listener. Whether that means being able to handle and respond well to some strange request, or simply knowing your customer and where they come from. What are their needs? What are their wants? You either fill the want, or you don't. That makes or breaks your success."

Michael cites "excellent technical skills" as another crucial factor in determining a stylist's success, but not the only one. "You can do your styles the best, but fashion is always changing, so you're constantly redefining your work," he says. "In this industry, the need for continuing education is certain. It's always evolving; you have to keep up with the latest trends. You have to know the old, but also be open to the new, and that's difficult for some people. But the people who will thrive in that type of environment, they love the challenge."

While many of Michael's experiences are specific to his unique and creative field, he says that most of the principles that foster success in salons can be applied across the working world: "The whole name of the game is just like that in a lot of other businesses: you have to produce a great product, but the real key within that is communication. Salon work is guest services more than anything else. You have to bond with the clients, and we go out of our way to deliver whatever the customer wants, whether it's special ordering a product to parking their car, we'll do it to make them happy."

Pleasing the customer (or client) is an always-vital truism. Michael's advice can also be applied to the hospitality industry, by far the largest employer and the driving engine for New Orleans' tourism-based economy. Two veterans of the local field demonstrate the variety of options available. They also reveal how a strong work ethic and a bit of ingenuity can make hospitality a solid growth career with considerable potential.

"It's hard to get experience, and it's what everyone is looking for," says Steele Haile, president and owner of Cadre Staffing, a local company that provides temporary workers for the hospitality industry. This is true whether it's for catered events or for Cadre's exclusive contract with the posh Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. "We're a foot in the door. We can do some light training to land you your first job, and from there many have moved on to full-time positions, if that's what they want. Plus, we can provide a reference to their work history, which always helps in finding a job."

Working through an employment agency, Haile says, has its advantages, with flexibility being one of the main draws. In addition, he adds, Cadre can front the tuition money to attend bartending school, another great launching pad into a lucrative job, if not career. Besides the specific demand of hospitality work that requires workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Haile says that his best workers all have qualities of being "reliable and a good communicator."

Gretchen Fisher can offer her own success in the hospitality industry as an example. "The hospitality industry is a great place to consider for people looking into careers," says Fisher, who began working at the Hilton Hotel-Riverside 11 years ago in the laundry room, and now is the employment coordinator for a business that employs roughly 1,400 people. "Look at where I started and where I'm at now," she says. "There is a world of opportunities at your fingertips if you're willing to advance."

In her current duties, Fisher handles a wide variety of challenging tasks, from interviews, handling new hires' orientation, and showcasing the hotel's opportunities at various local job fairs. Such fairs include those held at local universities aimed at attracting rising college graduates to ones sponsored by the mayor's office. Fisher that says regardless of the state of the economy, the hospitality industry always provides an opportunity -- even during the "slow season," the summer months in New Orleans when tourists aren't as inclined to visit because of the heat and humidity.

Fisher offers a current sampling of what jobs are available at the Hilton right now -- a list that includes positions for concierge, front office, guest services agent, bell attendant, gift shop supervisor and cashier, and business center clerk. The list demonstrates the variety of jobs available in the field.

"People should keep in mind that hotels are a 24-hour business when they apply to work here," Fisher says. "That doesn't work for everyone. But for people who like it, it's a great place to work. There's plenty of jobs available, and how far you go depends on how far you want to go."

click to enlarge Local employers agree that establishing yourself - within a career helps brings economic security. And - on a resume, "experience" typically trumps other - facets.
  • Local employers agree that establishing yourself within a career helps brings economic security. And on a resume, "experience" typically trumps other facets.
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