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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 am

Locally, shift proves hard to calculate

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Despite some other cities' experience with white-collar flight, the Fort Wayne MSA isn't lacking for managers.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of area workers in management occupations has increased by 10 percent to 8,740 from May 2008 to May 2016.

The local metropolitan statistical area comprises Allen, Wells and Whitley counties.

All white-collar workers aren't managers, however. And it's challenging to track workforce changes based on the collar system.

Rick Farrant, spokesman for Northeast Indiana Works, said industry and occupational data aren't typically classified by blue- or white-collar jobs.

“There is a misnomer when assessing the value of white-collar jobs to an economy, and that is the perception white-collar jobs are generally higher-skilled and higher-payer positions than blue-collar jobs,” he said in an email. “That is not always the case.”

Farrant suggested a more appropriate way of classifying positions is whether they require specialized skills.

The more skills a job requires, he said, “the more challenging it is for a person to land that job or an employer to find a suitable candidate.”

“There are fewer high-skilled jobs and a smaller talent pool for such positions,” Farrant added.

Rachel Blakeman, director of IPFW's Community Research Institute, compiled data for some specific traditional white-collar and blue-collar jobs for The Journal Gazette.

Blakeman found the number of people working in sales and administrative support, both considered white-collar jobs declined in the local MSA from 2008 to 2016. Sales workers dropped by 11 percent to 20,220. Office or administrative workers declined by 5 percent to 31,050.

Some of the area's blue-collar workforce also shrank during that eight-year span.

Construction workers declined by 18 percent to 7,620. Installation, maintenance and repair positions fell by 7 percent to 8,860. And production jobs were down 7 percent to 26,990.

Blakeman noted that the BLS data's broad occupational categories include varied positions that require distinctly different talents and training. The sales category, for example, includes cashiers, telemarketers, real estate agents and stock brokers.

Blakeman believes local economic development officials are pursuing the right course by targeting specific industries to create a cluster of employers. The community can support those industries by attracting suppliers and creating a pool of trained workers “whether they work in white- or blue-collar jobs.”

“Clearly, some jobs are more prone to automation than others,” she said, “but skilled workers are valued across industries.”