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April 04, 1992|Michael Flagg, Times staff writer

Warning Signs: When people talk about how bad the job market is, they often point to the health-care industry as an exception: That's doing OK, at least .

Now comes Elliot Gordon, a managing vice president for Korn/Ferry International, an executive recruiter in Newport Beach. Gordon says industries in decline often hire lots of top executives--hoping to reverse their fortunes--just before they go down the chute.

"When an industry gets in trouble," he recently told a group of executives studying for MBAs at UC Irvine, "we often see frenetic hiring activity at the top in a last-ditch effort to find a messiah who, it is hoped, can walk on quicksand."

It happened in the energy industry in the early 1980s; in real estate in the late '80s; and it's now happening in financial services.

But for health care, the conventional wisdom is that as baby boomers grow older and require more medical care, the industry will prosper. While that may be good news for some biotechnology and drug companies, says Gordon, health-care providers such as hospital operators are starting to show signs of some frenzied hiring.

The reason: The industry may be in for some wrenching changes, especially if government finally does something about curbing runaway health-care costs.

The signs of trouble in health-care hiring are the same, Gordon told the MBAs Friday, as in real estate and energy "before they came crashing down."

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