Minnesota employers focusing future job needs on technical skills, marketing and sales

If you can sell, develop new products, install software or build online applications, Minnesota employers may have a job for you. But it may not necessarily be just in Minnesota — in fact, it could be overseas.

That was one take-away from a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce session about how the recession has affected the job market.

Human resource executives from Medtronic and Ecolab, as well as an executive recruiter from SpencerStuart, reinforced a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study projecting that nearly two of every three net new jobs over the next several years will come in either the health care or professional and business services sectors.

With an eye on the developing health care debate and the growth of the health care industry, Jan Erickson, Medtronic vice president of corporate human resources and talent acquisition, said the outlook for Medtronic is “very positive.” While describing the winter months as a slow hiring period, she is looking for a seasonal pickup in the spring.

The Fridley-based medical device company employs nearly 39,000 in 120 countries worldwide, 8,000 in Minnesota and currently has about 300 positions open globally, Erickson reported. Medtronic’s hiring is focused on finding people with experience in clinical trials and regulatory affairs, “critical to getting FDA approval” for new products, Erickson explained.

 She also said the company has a “strong, focused area” of hiring in science and technology, with such key areas as biology, biomedical engineering and drug delivery system development. In addition, information technology is “not necessarily a new skill set for us but we need more people,” she added.

Sue Metcalf, Ecolab vice president of talent development, said the bulk of the company’s 24,000 employees in 160 countries (2,000 in Minnesota) are “customer-facing.” She explained that the St. Paul-based cleaning and sanitizing supplies company “follows our customers around the world wherever they are.”

As a result, Ecolab is “primarily looking for sales service associates” in the 200 job openings they have globally. They also have some openings in R&D. In addition, they are looking for specific IT skills for a short-term project in Europe and China, where the company is installing software.

The company looks to continue to grow long term, Metcalf said.  “We are very optimistic. We are all about growth.” But she described the firm’s 2010 outlook as “fairly conservative.”

Ecolab and Medtronic both have seen a surge in applications and evaluating applications has become a major challenge, they agree. Ecolab received about 200,000 applications last year, Metcalf said, which translates into 165 applicants for every job.

Simon Foster, a consultant in the Minneapolis office of executive recruiter SpencerStuart, said a survey of  several major Twin Cities employers across the consumer, manufacturing and financial service sectors found a consistent hiring theme: the search for employees “who can contribute to growing their companies.”

He also said many of the opportunities are international postings, “particularly the Asia Pacific region and also Europe.” He also sees demand for technical and managerial talent in engineering, product management and design engineering.

He also cited the continuing shift in consumer spending toward the Internet in creating demand for individuals with online marketing or development experience.

Foster cited encouraging signs as the economy struggles to emerge from the recession, with slowing unemployment, “real movement in consumer spending” and the return of orders from manufacturers. However, he is decidedly cautious in his near-term outlook, saying that “many think there might be a double dip, and we share that more conservative view.”

Longer term, he sees a “consumer landscape that is changed forever,” declaring the era of high consumer debt levels “gone” as savings rates increase, creating downward pressure on consumer spending.

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