Good help is hard to find.

So say mortgage industry insiders, many of whom are having trouble bolstering their staffs to handle the pickup in volume as interest rates ease.

"We are now entering a mini-boomlet of refinances and new home purchases, but there is no surplus of labor in the industry," said Alan Gutterman, president of Response Professional Placement, New York.

One analyst said the gap between loan volume and employment should start to narrow.

"We'll probably see some increases in employment in the next three to six months to catch up with volume now," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Regional Financial Associates, West Chester, Pa.

He added that while the general job market should help employers fill permanent positions with workers who want to get out of temporary jobs, recruiting has nevertheless been difficult.

Mortgage industry employment follows the industry's volatile business cycles. The job market peaked in April 1994, at the end of the refinance boom. There were 272,000 people employed as mortgage bankers or mortgage brokers that month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the refinancing boom ended and business slowed, layoffs began in the second half of 1994 and continued in the first half of 1995. The industry hit the bottom of the trough in June 1995, with only 222,000 employees. Since then, the labor market has leveled off, with 238,000 mortgage bankers and brokers in November 1995.

One lender who did not downsize significantly after the refinance boom is glad he is now immune to the shortage of job applicants as a result.

Rich Bennion, executive vice president at Continental Savings Bank, Seattle, said his company downsized operations only 5% after the refinance boom, and has used excess capacity to sop up the volume increase there. But, he said, there are not many people out looking for work in the industry.

"It seems that most people displaced in the restructuring by the bank- owned companies have been absorbed elsewhere, and some have even opened their own brokerage shops," Mr. Bennion said.

Ellen DeSua, vice president of human resources at Knutson Mortgage Corp., Bloomington, Minn., said she has had no problems hiring new staff.

She attributes the ease in filling jobs to Knutson's flexible hours and scheduling, and to its focus on long-term expansion, rather than stopgap hiring to help with cycle upswings.

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