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Will Hurricane Sandy be a jobs creator, at least temporarily?

With the last and highly anticipated pre-election Employment Situation report due out Friday, updating the national unemployment rate, the jobs topic is at the forefront this week.

Jackson Heights, Queens, the morning after Hurricane Sandy slammed NYC. Photo: Matthew David Powell

And with tens of billions of dollars in damage estimates coming out of the huge swath of states scoured by Hurricane Sandy, it’s an interesting moment to look at the employment prospects the damaging hurricane likely has created.

This isn’t just an East Coast angle; you may find that workers from your area are being deployed, or are deploying themselves, to augment the available talent in the hardest-hit states.  For example, as this press release notes, electric utility workers from states like Iowa, Indiana and Michigan have been dispatched to help out with line repair.

Of course, those workers already had jobs.  But will people seeking work get a boost from the so-called superstorm’s havoc?  It seems that at least some temporary positions will be created immediately due to clean-up and salvage needs.  And they might be advertising further afield from Sandy than you think.

For example, I did a quick Craigslist search for the Detroit area (add the search term ’hurricane’) and found a handful of ads in the “general labor” and “skilled trades/crafts” categories – one $10/hour offer from an anonymous “disaster restoration company” stated bluntly “We will work 12 hours a day, 7 days.”

Another intriguing ad wanted local workers to operate Hi-Los and pack relief goods like canned food and toiletries from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., with sort of an odd-sounding November timeframe and a mistaken reference to Hurricane Isaac in the text.  An ad in Indianapolis wanted tree subcontractors and ‘climbers’ with chippers and bucket trucks a plus; it said the work would be on behalf of Travelers Insurance.

Hurricane Sandy damage

Twitter user Lauren, aka @L_E_Wiggle, shared this photo of what she called the tree that almost hit her livingroom window.

Are these legitimate offers or scams?  You can try raising a company spokesperson by responding to the job-offer e-mails, and in any story about hurricane jobs you might want to include a sidebar of caveats — gleaned from your state’s attorney general, the labor department and other regulators — to warn desperate would-be workers about potential traps.  Who pays for travel and accomodations, for example?  What documentation should workers ask for from prospective employers?  What forms of payment are safe to accept?

Meanwhile, hurricane job ads also are popping up on less anonymous sites than Craigslist; I took a look at Simply Hired and found an ad by project management firm Faithful+gould seeking individuals to help work in shelters.  The Indeed.com job site had ads for general labor, paramedic/EMTs and a Manpower Inc. call for call center workers.

If you don’t find any links to your region following this trail, just take note — because it’s still unclear about whether or not the U.S. may face a stormy or snowy winter.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is somewhat stumped at the moment because the El Nino phenomenon over the Pacific, which can determine winter weather, has sort of stalled out, leaving the forecast uncertain.  And over on CareerBuilder.com, a firm called SmartSource is seeking up to 20 forensic engineers for two-month gigs; it wants civil and structural engineers to help assess damage and resolve claims.

So, as you can see, the call for itinerant workers ranges from unskilled labor to highly skilled professions; in the latter case you might contact professional associations for engineering, architectural and building/contracting companies to see if a call has gone out in your state.

Of course, try the temporary staffing agencies directly, too, including specialty recruiters that specialize in construction and other building-related fields.  And be sure to check with chains and independents in the disaster-recovery and flood-mitigation business about what their staffing needs are for the next few months.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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