Florida’s job market will improve here and there, but a full recovery is still far away, according to a new economic forecast.

The state’s unemployment rate is expected to bump up and remain around 11.8 percent, and finally begin a decline, but an extremely slow one, according to a forecast from the Florida Economic Estimating Conference, a group of state experts. And that’s just what the jobless rate did in November, moving up to 12 percent from 11.9 percent in October.

For the quarter ending in December and the January through March quarter, the unemployment rate is expected to average 11.8 percent, said Amy Baker, Florida’s senior economist. “We don’t drop below 10 percent until the third quarter or summer of 2012,” she said. Unemployment peaked at 12.3 percent in March 2010.

In Florida, more than 1.1 million are out of work.

But some previously discouraged job hunters are getting back into the job market. “Growth is starting to return. We now have had five months of job growth. People who have totally given up respond to that and they’re coming back in. It’s a better place to be than before,” Baker said.

The hardest-hit sector continues to be construction, which lost about half its jobs since 2007.

Tony Villamil, economist and business dean of St. Thomas University in Miami, said Florida lost too many jobs in construction, real estate and related industries for a quick recovery. “Coming out of this unemployment hole is going to take awhile,” he said.

Steven Coren, a 57-year-old architect, was laid off a year ago from a Boca Raton real estate development firm. “In my career of 32 years, I’ve seen numerous slowdowns. I survived every recession up until last year. It was not like things slowed down, it stopped,” he said.

Coren is working as a lighting design consultant instead of waiting for his industry to recover. Employers are telling him, “we can’t afford to take you on full time now, but if you’re willing to help us grow, you can grow with us,” he said.

The healthcare industry continues to add jobs, such as those with doctor’s offices and small clinics. But others industries also are starting to improve. “Some industries are already showing growth: leisure and hospitality, and activities related to the global economy and our major trade partners,” Vilamil said.

Sean Snaith, economist for the University of Central Florida, doesn’t expect significant job growth in Florida until the last quarter of 2011 or even early 2012. Professional and business-sector jobs will lead the way. But he also says there will be more manufacturing jobs, due to exports to Brazil and other trading partners that have healthier economies, he said.

Jorge Roca, senior recruiter for Fort Lauderdale-based staffing company Spherion, said South Florida companies will fill more administrative assistant jobs, as well as sales and marketing positions, in the first quarter of 2011.

Roca recommends job seekers be flexible. For example, they should be willing to drive more than 30 minutes to their new employer. “There are always two or three who stand out because of their flexibility,” he said.

Employers have been “obsessively selective” in hiring workers during the recession, Roca said, but he expects that to start changing in 2011. “Companies are realizing that everybody’s hiring today and they can’t be as selective,” he said.

For the state’s long-term outlook, Baker said the Economic Estimating Conference forecasters are optimistic. “We don’t think there’s anything systematically wrong with Florida’s economy,” she said. “Once people can start selling their homes up North, then we’ll start seeing the return of the normal migration pattern. Florida still ranks really high as a destination spot for retirees.”

Foreign trade is the key to creating 143,000 jobs in the state, according to the Florida Chamber Foundation, the research arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Its recent report says Florida can capture a larger share of imports originating in Asia, expand markets for Florida businesses by filling import containers with Florida goods, and better leverage its location as a global hub for trade and investment.

“There’s a clear cost advantage in coming to Florida from all routes,” said John Kaliski, principal of researcher Cambridge Systematics, in a recent press conference. That strategy could generate jobs in logistics, manufacturing, and related management.

When will Florida’s job market return to “normal”? Opportunities for work peaked in March 2007, when employment was at 8.1 million and unemployment just 3.3 percent. “It will be spring of 2016 before we get back to that same number of jobs,” Baker said.

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By Marcia Heroux Pounds Sun Sentinel