Hiring activity across the North Bay is picking up as the summer season slowdown comes to a close, particularly as the wine industry ramps up for harvest season and other employers continue to see improvements, according to employment experts.

[caption id="attachment_77677" align="alignright" width="358"] Sonoma County employment and job growth (click to enlarge)[/caption]

In June, the most recent month for available statewide figures, Sonoma County's unemployment rate edged upward to 6.7 percent from 6.1 percent in May. Likewise in Napa County, the rate ticked up to 5.8 percent in June from a revised 5.3 percent in May. The same was true in Marin and Solano counties, as well.

The next round of data, from the Employment Development Department, is scheduled for Aug. 16.

Between June and now, hiring activity has picked up significantly, according to Kelley Hartman, regional vice president of Sonoma-based Nelson Staffing.

"There's definitely a huge uptick in the wineries and manufacturing in general," Ms. Hartman said. "A lot of entry level jobs are coming our way and we're also seeing an increase in direct hires.

[caption id="attachment_77680" align="alignleft" width="300"] Napa County employment and job growth (click to enlarge)[/caption]

"The market has definitely turned and there's a lot of jobs out there, especially entry level," Ms. Hartman added.

Several factors, in addition to the looming harvest season, are driving the hiring, among them a steady recovery across several sectors and large-scale retail and hospitality projects either just completed or nearing completion.

Such developments are making it difficult for employers to find qualified candidates, leading to a shortage and potentially giving the upper hand to job seekers instead of employers -- a sharp departure from the height of the recession a few years ago, according to Eric Huggins, branch manager for staffing firm Robert Half in Santa Rosa.

 "I would say right now it's not really a buyer's market," Ms. Huggins said. "Companies need to make offers quickly. Individuals are seeing counter offers and multiple offers."

[caption id="attachment_77678" align="alignleft" width="359"] North Bay employment and job growth (click to enlarge)[/caption]

Unemployment rates have improved markedly over the year -- in June 2012, Sonoma County's rate was 8.9 percent, more than two points higher than the current rate. Napa County’s rate last year was 7.7 percent, also two points higher, while in Marin County -- the lowest rate in California -- last year's rate was 6.7 percent, nearly two points up from June 2013.

"I think candidates are starting to realize they can go for better opportunities," Ms. Hartman said, "so they’re exploring more. They're getting recruited."

Certain industries are seeing a higher level of demand, with the greatest demand seen for candidates with specialized skills, both Ms. Huggins and Ms. Hartman said.

"Things like accounting and finance and IT are definitely seeing shortages, and those positions are very prevalent now," Ms. Hartman said.

[caption id="attachment_77679" align="alignright" width="358"] North Bay retail jobs and job growth (click to enlarge)[/caption]

Nicole Smartt, co-owner and vice president of Petaluma-based Star Staffing, noted strong increases in those areas as well.

"During the last month, we have seen a 22 percent increase in the wine industry sector, a 14 percent increase in the manufacturing sector, and 40 percent in the professional sector," mainly in sales, engineering, executive administration and IT, she said.

She added: "Because unemployment is down and there are many jobs available, top talent is harder to recruit and retain."

Ms. Huggins echoed that sentiment, pointing to particular positions in high demand such as company controllers, book keepers and clerks, pay role, accounts payable positions, human resources and executive assistants. She added that employers are seeking custom skill sets for some industries, for example an accountant focused on the health care sector, or an IT worker who specializes in the wine industry.  

"We're finding that the specialized skill sets are in demand," Ms. Huggins said.

Both temporary and temp-to-hires are on the upswing, as is direct hiring.

Numerous industries are seeing the increase -- from retail and consumer products to food and wine, construction, real estate and development, software and service and health care and nonprofits.

Nationally, employers reported increased confidence, with 22 percent saying they would add staff -- the highest level since 2009, according to a June survey by Manpower Group, an international staffing firm with a Santa Rosa branch. 

The third-quarter survey found that only 6 percent of employers across all industries planned to decrease staffing levels, while 70 percent said they would maintain current staffing levels. Another 2 percent were unsure, resulting in a net positive employment outlook of 12 percent, compared to 11 percent during the same quarter last year.

The North Bay mirrored national trends in construction and leisure and hospitality, both of which had national positive outlooks on hiring.  According to the survey, all industry sectors and regions reported positive outlooks, including wholes sale and retail trade, professional business services, financial activities, nondurable and durable goods manufacturing, information and education and health services.

Sonoma County showed positive yearly growth in June, adding 4,400 jobs. Government added 1,200 jobs over the year, while trade, transportation and utilities added 900 jobs. Education and health services added 700, as did leisure and hospitality, while professional business services added 500.

Napa County added 2,000 jobs over the year, a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year. Gains occurred significantly in manufacturing, which includes wine production, which added 1,000 jobs over the year. Hospitality and tourism added 700, while construction added 500.

In Solano County, the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in June, up from a revised 7.7 percent in May but well below last year’s rate of 10.5 percent. Mendocino County’s rate increased to 7.4 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, but below last year’s rate of 9.5 percent. Lake County’s rate increased to 12 percent in June, up from 11.6 percent in May but still below last year’s rate of 14.8 percent. The comparable national unemployment remained effectively unchanged at 7.6 percent. The statewide average was 8.8 percent,