You see them on storefront windows, on sales counters, on fast-food menus at the local drive-through. If the ubiquitous poppy is California's state flower, "Help Wanted" is quickly becoming the state poster.
With Bay Area counties approaching what experts identify as full employment (currently between 1.4 and 2.5 percent jobless), and with many other Northern California counties close behind, employers are getting increasingly creative if not desperate in their search to attract new workers.
Some offer their present staff bonuses for recruiting workers. Others are enclosing help-wanted flyers in customer billing statements. It's not uncommon to find starting salaries of $8 and up, with promises of quick advancement.
In almost every industry, demand is exceeding the supply of qualified workers. With only one exception - job prospecting in the slumping mining industry just isn't what it used to be in the Golden State.
Still, newcomers are rushing to California to cash in on the career opportunities that abound not just for computer geeks, but for people with little or no experience, without advanced degrees, and looking for on-the-job training.
Here is a summary of some of the hotter careers that require little or no background, yet offer solid prospects for future growth.
Building a Career
Robust hiring is putting the squeeze on office and living space and creating demand for new accommodations. Across the state, builders are scrambling to meet the need, making construction the fastest-growing industry in California.
Chris Floethe, executive director of the Construction Craft Training Center in Hayward, complains there are few people to fill the mounting number of good-paying openings in the building industry. Many contractors, eager for good help, will even pay for training. "During the time an apprentice joins the program, the pay could range from $10 to $30 an hour," says Floethe, adding that journey- level pay can zoom to $60,000 or more per year.
Construction-oriented training centers are located in several Bay Area locales. For information, call (510) 785-2282. Special programs are also available to help women break into the industry; call (916) 263-0619.
While construction is booming throughout California, the Sacramento area is particularly busy, recording record building activity as firms relocate in search of relief from high costs and overcrowding.
While California statistics indicate traditional manufacturing is declining in the state, high-tech manufacturing is booming. California is home to 25 percent of the nation's computer manufacturers who assemble circuit boards, build microchips, and produce the PCs themselves.
Nor is there much danger of losing these jobs to foreign workers, since companies feel specialized manufacturing needs to be close to home.
Precision machinists, who craft the tools for the high-tech industry, are in particular demand. These workers utilize computer-controlled equipment to make such things as the plastic injection molds used to shape a monitor or a microchip.
Apprentices earn while they learn at one of the free training centers provided by the National Tooling and Machining Association, (510) 226-3760.
Applicants of all ages are welcome, and no advance degrees are required. Journey-level workers can earn $60,000 plus per year.
Drive to Succeed
Webvan.com, Amazon.com, ebay.com - and just about any other consumer-oriented Internet company - have one thing in common. Someone has to deliver their goods. Trucking companies are the critical link as Internet e-tailers strive to deal directly with their customers.
As a result, drivers find themselves in high demand, enjoying increased pay and benefits. Annual pay can start at $30,000 to $35,000 and jump to $50,000 the second year with major carriers. In addition, many drivers can boast a regular work week, with weekends off. Long-haul drivers are in demand as well. For more information on trucking careers, call the California Trucking Association in West Sacramento at (916) 373-3500.
If working under the hood is more your forte, the demand for auto mechanics is really revving up. "They can pick and choose where they go because now there is a critical shortage," attests Steward Franklin, automotive training manager for the Sequoia Institute in Fremont, which has been turning out auto mechanics for 36 years.
Auto body specialists and auto painters are also in demand. Earnings can range from $40,000 to $50,000 in a few years. Vocational schools as well as community colleges offer entry-level programs.
At Your Service
No industry has created more jobs in recent years than the services sector in California. This broad category includes restaurants and business services - from temporary staffing agencies to web designers and software manufacturers.
Temporary agencies are particularly popular as companies struggle to fill open positions. Many agencies report a critical need for administrative assistants.
If temporary work interests you, check out some of the new websites that link workers with agencies or employers. They include guru.com, monster.com and dice.com.
America's ongoing effort to clean up the environment also provides solid career opportunities. These green jobs include monitoring, abatement and compliance enforcement.
While advanced science is common in these careers, you do not need an advanced degree to become a hazardous waste technician or a hazardous waste transportation worker.
"Probably the jobs in most demand now are in lead removal," observes Margaret Salter, president of SINA Environmental, Inc., located in Dublin. She notes that the first stop for anyone interested is to acquire certification by the state Department of Health Services. Certified positions include inspector, assessor, project designer, project monitor, supervisor or worker - all good paying jobs, according to Salter. "Because respirators are required for these jobs, the hourly rate climbs."
For more information on certification, visit www.dhs.ca.gov.
Lower-Level High Tech
Don't assume you need an advanced degree to land a job with a high-tech company. Many a youthful computer enthusiast has worked his or her way up in the industry without four years of college. Ever heard of Bill Gates?
Even if you don't have the computer savvy to code software, you can quickly teach yourself many marketable skills online by visiting such sites as smartplanet.com, an Internet university where for a nominal fee you can learn useful skills like writing code used in web pages.
While you won't get official university credit for most of the offerings, many employers will recognize your certification as proof you have the qualifications for at least an entry-level position.
While e-commerce has captured all the attention recently, the brick and mortar businesses haven't been doing too badly either. Retail jobs in California have grown by 66,200 over the past year, as the booming economy continues to generate strong sales figures.
While a job behind the cash register may not sound prestigious, more than one store manager started out ringing up individual sales transactions.
Finally, if you'd like to add a uniform to your wardrobe, opportunities are plentiful with both private and public law enforcement agencies - from the FBI and the California Dept of Corrections to private security firms. Requirements vary, but all expect candidates to have a clean record.
The military is still a good choice if you crave a little adventure with your apprenticeship. With the economy creating so many private-sector opportunities, the armed forces - with the exception of the Marines - have had trouble filling recruiting quotas in recent years.
Seems that granddaddy of all help-wanted posters still holds true - Uncle Sam definitely wants you.