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Officials: Jobs easy to find if you work at it

Feb. 23, 2001

This piece concludes a 3-part series on the Waco economy

By TYLER EMLER

Reporter

Experts have a tough time defining underemployment. Gaylen Lange, director of the Heart of Texas Workforce, said the term is widely used to describe those who are working in a job that is under their potential. She said even though underemployment isn't easily defined, she knows it applies to her.

'I consider myself underemployed,' said Lange, who has worked for the HOT Workforce for eight years, despite holding a master's degree.

With the Texas unemployment rate at a negligible 2.9 percent, underemployment becomes a major cause of concern for the job force, especially those fresh out of college.

'I think that underemployment occurs a lot of times because individuals, when they go to decide on a major or education, do not take the time to look down into the future and look at the employment trends ... and say 'when I graduate from college, what am I going to do with this degree?'' Lange said. 'What are the opportunities for me?'

Lange said if a worker has a high-tech degree, but wants to live in Waco, he is going to be underemployed. Waco doesn't have enough opportunities for high-tech careers, she said.

Dr. Thomas Kelly, Baylor professor of economics, shares Lange's opinion that if workers are underemployed, they are to blame.

'It's easier for people to move to [the jobs] than it is to sit back and wait for the jobs to come to them,' Kelly said. '[Workers] are more mobile than the jobs are. People in Waco feel like they are under-utilized. Well, they might be if they sit here [even though] they are capable of doing a higher order job which is located in Austin.'

Independent economic consultant Mark Thomas sees the underemployment problem from a broader, national angle.

'My interpretation [of underemployment] is that there is a skills gap in the United States,' said Thomas, who is the former senior vice president of economic development in Waco. 'One of the areas of skills gap [is] the amount of jobs that are requiring technical training.'

Thomas said there is a surplus of high-tech jobs in the United States, but there aren't enough people trained for the positions. This causes these newly 'created' jobs to go unfilled, he said.

Thomas said '... there were 35,000 jobs like that in Texas.' He said these jobs went unfilled because people didn't have the training to fill them.

Lange said the aim of the HOT Workforce is to serve the whole Waco population by getting contacts with the 'top-notch companies so that we have all levels of jobs, so that all levels of people with all levels of backgrounds can come over [to the Workforce center] and we can be a resource to them.'

Lange also offered this encouragement to those about to enter the job market.

'If you are well educated, if you have a good work ethic and you enjoy your job, you're going to succeed. So if you start out underemployed, you're apt to end up where you want to be.'

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