No question, the job market is grim.
With employers continuing to lay off workers in droves, the national unemployment rate climbed to 8.9 percent in April.
But job seekers are finding some hiring bright spots amid the drumbeat of discouraging news.
Industries such as education, health care and the federal government are adding jobs nationally and in Maryland. And there are signs that hiring activity is picking up in the Baltimore region, employers and recruiters say.
Howard County General Hospital is looking to hire 220 health care professionals, including 140 medical nurses, patient care technicians, secretaries and other support staff for its new patient pavilion that's scheduled to open in August.
"We're growing, and that growth is going to continue with the aging of the population," said Dorothy Brillantes, senior vice president of human resources at the hospital.
Insurer MassMutual wants to hire 30 workers to sell its products in the Baltimore region. And AirTran is looking for three dozen customer service agents and ramp workers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; it's holding a job fair there June 2. The airline has hired 80 new employees at BWI Airport since the beginning of the year, a spokesman said.
"There are plenty of jobs out there and plenty of companies hiring," said Estelle Newman, president of Baltimore recruiting firm CareerWise Inc.
Still, the job cuts have been brutal for more than a year, particularly in the financial, construction and manufacturing sectors. But the pace of job losses slowed in April, signaling that the labor market might be stabilizing. Meanwhile, employment in health care and the federal government grew by 17,000 and 66,000, respectively, last month. The hiring at the federal government was largely due to adding temporary workers for Census 2010.
In Maryland, government, health and education sectors also added jobs in March. Some economists believe the state also could benefit from government stimulus spending.
Bob Hart, division manager of Ajilon Professional Staffing in Baltimore, is seeing signs of renewed interest by companies in starting to hire workers.
"What you're seeing is that things have settled, and some of the staples in Baltimore are hiring again," he said.
Demand for the agency's service has been growing in the past three weeks, Hart said. For instance, the firm received a hiring request from a client that it had not heard from in eight months.
"We are so much busier than we have been in three months," he said.
While acknowledging the challenges faced by workers and businesses, Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the state's core industries such as health care and biotech are still seeing job growth.
Pointing to hiring at businesses such as Northrop Grumman, Johansson said Maryland is "holding up better than most states in the United States."
Maryland's jobless rate climbed to 6.9 percent in March, the most recent data available. The state fared better than many other states. Michigan topped state joblessness with a rate of 12.6 percent.
Newman, the recruiter, said job seekers might want to consider going back to school to gain new skills.
To that end, Brillantes said unemployed workers can prepare for new jobs such as aging-care and pharmacy technicians by attending classes at a community college.
"Very often, you'll have somebody who started with us as dietary [workers] and admission officers, and they're doing their patient care technician programs and going to nursing school," Brillantes said, noting there are promotion opportunities at the hospital.
She added, "We're not getting the information out there as well to say there are very easy ways to begin to transition."
Hart suggests job seekers focus on emphasizing their transferable skills and be open about taking a step backward temporarily to advance their careers.
"We're seeing a lot of people take pay cuts to find more stable jobs, and that's really good advice" he said. "Be really flexible on location and compensation, and cast a wide net, and you'll likely to find something."
* Howard County General Hospital is holding two open houses for experienced registered nurses and patient care technicians with at least one year of acute care experience.
May 19, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
June 2, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
5755 Cedar Lane
* AirTran is holding a job fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 2 at BWI's career center, next to American Airlines ticket counter.
(Source: Respective companies)