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As 2013 comes to a close and we look towards 2014, overall signs of changes to the employment marketplace indicate that there may be a better picture for workers in 2014.  But, upon closer inspection, the results appear to be mixed.

A Mixed Bag

The BLS recently released its November employment figures and we saw the unemployment rate drop from 7.3% to 7.0%.  Is this a good sign?  At first glance, yes.  However, a deeper dive into the November Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that there are still some fundamental problems with the employment marketplace.  Total non-farm payroll added 203,000 jobs in November and has been averaging 195,000 jobs per month in the prior 12 months.  However, a moderate part of this increase came in transportation and warehousing, which includes truck transportation, warehousing, and storage, and air transportation.  Retail trade employment also expanded in November, with a bump of 22,000 jobs.  Seasonal?  It appears so. We'll need to see what happens in early 2014 whether this is a longer term trend.

The Survey Says…

To get our own sense on what’s happening in the marketplace, Beyond.com performed an HR survey, with participation from almost 500 HR professionals, recruiters, and a business owners.  Based on this survey, there still seems to be trepidation in the hiring outlook for 2014.  Nationwide unemployment rates have dropped, and our own survey participants saw increases to hiring, with 64% of respondents saying that they did add staff in 2013.  Almost 20% of these companies, however, indicated that even though they did hire, they did so only to replace lost workers.  And, why didn’t more companies hire?  Larger employees, (those with employee counts over 500) stated that the two main reasons why they didn’t do major hiring in 2013 is that they “couldn’t afford to bring on new staff” and they “didn’t need additional staff”.  Small companies (those with fewer than 100 employees) saw even less hiring activity, with 78% of respondents saying that they simply “didn’t need staff.”

According to the BLS, the healthcare sector still had some good news, posting an increase of 28,000 jobs in November,   Growth seems to be slowing, though, with a 3% decline in average monthly  healthcare job growth as compared to 2012.  Although the professional and business services sector added 35,000 new jobs in November, the number of long term unemployed--which means those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more--did not change.  4.1 million people categorized as long-term unemployed are still out of work.  These chronically unemployed workers have only seen a small decrease in their ranks (718,000) in the last 12 months.  Not good.  Do we have a skills gap? 

The Skills Gap is Alive and Well

Both the BLS numbers and our own polls show that the skills gap still exists.  Clearly, there are open jobs out there, as evidenced by the millions of job postings on Beyond.com and other career-focused sites.  However, over 71% of the employers who participated in the Beyond.com poll indicated that one of the greatest challenges to hiring is that candidates simply don’t have experience that is applicable to the open position.  Employers need to hire candidates that possess a certain level of expertise and knowledge of cutting-edge technology, and many of our survey comments stated that they’re having difficulty doing so.  Established professionals (i.e. those with relevant experience), are still hardest to hire for, according to almost 50% of our survey respondents.  Given the fact that companies keep the talent that is critical to operating the business, experienced professionals have been less likely to make a career move over the last few years, because sometimes the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t know.

Seeing the Light?

Is there a light at the end of tunnel?  Maybe.  In Beyond.com’s survey, 62% of employers said that they plan on growing their team in 2014, which is a good sign, and over 65% surveyed indicated that they believe it will be harder to find staff, especially in technology and healthcare.  Increased competition will bode well for job seekers, as companies may have to broaden their participant pool to find candidates--and perhaps help to close the skills gap by finding qualified candidates with relevant experience who can be trained for open positions.   Interestingly, 25% of the Beyond survey participants said that part of the reason they have trouble finding qualified candidates is because of their own company’s inability to offer competitive salaries.  Companies may face a decision for critical hires--either review pay scales in order to attract the best candidates, or develop better training and mentoring programs to enable highly capable individuals to grow into roles.

Retire Already!

When are those boomers going to retire?  Because of the volatility in the marketplace, people are working longer, and at some point, the market will need to see a “significant knowledge transfer to Millennials”, according to one of our survey respondents.  Additionally, retirees are taking the jobs that used to be filled by high school and college students.  The youth of our workforce –those aged 16-19 years old--are suffering from a whopping 20.8% unemployment rate.  If these younger workers are deprived of the entry-level job experience, they also don’t get the opportunity to learn the valuable lessons of on-the job training, develop interpersonal skills, and acquire a healthy work ethic.  The lack of available jobs will further exacerbate this group’s ability to have the soft skills necessary to find a job when they graduate collage or seek a full time career later in their lives.

The average workweek still continues to climb to 34.5 hours, indicating that employers are still trying to get more work out of existing employees.  And, with relatively unchanged employment in the mining and logging, wholesale trade, information and financial sectors, the underling health of key industries is still generally lackluster.

Summary

2014 will be an interesting year. The majority of unemployed job seekers remain confident they will find a job. The majority of employers plan to hire, and believe that it will be more difficult to hire. These are both positive signs that the economy is improving. If true, then we will see companies better able to hire, to increase salaries, and to invest in training. And, we will see unemployment continue to decrease, including making a dent in the long-term unemployed. As HR professionals and recruiters, we play a critical role not only in helping companies attract and retain the best talent, but also in helping capable individuals find employment. This has been a difficult task during the downturn. Here's to a rewarding 2014!

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Joe Stubblebine is Vice President of Corporate Outreach at Beyond.com.  Beyond.com, The Career Network, focuses on helping people grow and succeed professionally through 75 unique career channels and 3,000 industry and regional communities.

Joe has over 14 years of entrepreneurial recruitment products & services experience.  Prior to joining Beyond.com, Joe was the Co-Founder and CEO of JobCircle.com, a robust regional career site.  JobCircle.com was acquired by Beyond.com in 2012.  Joe was the founder of hired! Magazine, an employment publication in the Greater Philadelphia region.  He also founded SocialMediaPlus, a series of B2B social media conferences.  Joe has served as an IT consultant & project manager for many notable brands.  He has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer “Who’s Who Under 30”, “Top Tech” by Computer User magazine.  His company, JobCircle.com, held the 11th spot on the Philadelphia INC 100 List in 2002. He has made appearances on The Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, WWDB Executive Leaders Radio, and The Eye Opener, PHL17 in Philadelphia. Joe attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Accounting.

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Tags: Corporate Recruiting, Human Resources, Job Seekers, resumes, unemployment

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