Managing your career in a changing labor market

Ironically, with the globalization of business, the re-engineering of company structures, shifts in the industrial landscape, the disappearance of many jobs, and the increasing impact of fast-changing technology, change has become the only constant in the American workplace.

To manage your career successfully into the future, you’ll need to be aware of trends in the marketplace. This column is the first in a series that will help you keep abreast of trends and developments that impact the workplace. This month I’ll start with an overview of the U.S. employment market, and in future issues we’ll cover trends in specific industries, such as health care, telecommunications, and the financial services industries.

DOWNSIZING

Industries that were worst hit in 1994 were telecommunications, airlines, banking, financial services, and utilities. Projections for 1995 from a number of sources are that downsizing will continue across most industries, although at a slightly lower rate than 1994, and that industries likely to suffer particularly in 1995 are insurance, pharmaceuticals, airlines, and healthcare (particularly hospitals).

GROWTH IN EMPLOYMENT

1994 was the fourth year of the current economic expansion, buoyed by the fastest growth rate (4%) in employment in the last ten years. However, job growth slowed in the 4th Quarter of’94 (and continues to slow in 1995), as interest rate policy reigned in the U.S. economy.

Where were the new jobs in 1994? Sixty percent of total job growth in 1994 occurred in only 7% of industries (20 Out of a total 288 classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Of the top 20 growth industries, those with below-average wages added many more jobs than those with above-average wages. Only two industries accounted for 20% of ALL jobs added in 1994: (1) personnel supply services, and (2) eating and drinking places, which explains the lower than average wages. Other service industries which posted strong gains were: local government education, computer and data processing services, department stores, home health care services, and trucking and courier services. Manufacturing/goods producing industries which showed strong gains were: automobiles and equipment, construction-related trades (masonry, stonework, and plastering), and electrical work.

“Slightly more than half of all jobs gained in 1994 were for professional specialty and managerial workers, and an additional quarter were for technical, sales, and administrative support workers, indicating the continuing demand for more skilled and better educated workers”, says a career expert that can help write a CV if you need one.

LOOKING AHEAD

On the immediate horizon, projections for 1995 show that a growth rate of 2.5-3% versus 1994’s 4%. As large companies continue to streamline, employment opportunities look best in smaller and medium-sized companies.

Manpower Inc.’s monthly survey of 15,000 businesses shows optimism about hiring in the first half of 1995 (with 30% planning to add staff and only 7% planning to cut staff). Areas that are the most optimistic for 1995 are durable goods (especially automobiles and computers), construction, wholesale and retail trade, non-durable goods, and services. Some of the less optimistic areas are banking and finance, insurance and real estate, utilities, pharmaceuticals and defense-related businesses.

The National Business Employment Weekly projected these employment opportunities in 1995, based on executive recruiting activity in managerial and professional areas:

Consumer goods: strong demand for senior marketing executives, especially with direct mail experience
Retailing: need for merchandisers remains strong
Information systems and technology: demand is strong if your skills are current, and you have some business know-how
Publishing: is looking for business-oriented executives and database marketers
Insurance: needs senior level marketers, especially with direct mail experience
Banking: is looking for credit-card marketers, corporate and retail product specialists, senior relationship managers, and multi-discipline managers. International experience is a major plus.
Pharmaceuticals: no growth expected overall, but there is opportunity in small biotech firms that are partnering with big firms.
Health care: demand for workers in hospitals is slowing, as managed care health systems emphasize outpatient and in-home care; therefore, home care and outpatient clinics will have growth
Engineering: continues to have problems in defense and export-related areas but opportunities are increasing in manufacturing related to the general increase in consumer demand. Opportunities continue to be good in software engineering

PREDICTIONS

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that service-producing jobs will account for 93% of all job growth over the period. Health services and business services (which includes computer and data processing services) will be among the fastest growing areas. Education, child day-care, and residential care will also grow, driven primarily by demographics. Financial services such as banking and insurance will continue to lose jobs due to consolidation of functions and increased productivity from the application of technology.

Manufacturing employment is projected to decline due to technology-based productivity increases, and the composition of manufacturing jobs will shift as production jobs decrease and managerial jobs increase. Construction is expected to increase substantially, and growth in agricultural services will help fuel modest growth in the agriculture, forestry and fishing division.

Projections for occupational groups show the fastest growth rates for those requiring higher levels of education or training: 1) professional specialty, (2) technicians and related support, and (3) executive, administrative, and managerial. These occupational groups are also those that have the highest earnings.

Since demographics drives employment growth overall, the aging of baby boomers over the 1992-2005 period will create a glut of highly experienced workers competing for the best jobs. On a regional basis, the U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that the West (24%) and the South (16%) will continue to be the fastest growing regions, while the Midwest will grow 7% and the Northeast will only grow 3%.

The Changing Structure of Work

Bureau of Labor Statistics projections about jobs are one thing, but we all can look around us and see that the notion of the job as we have known it is changing drastically. Many jobs that have gone away through downsizing and re-engineering will never come back. Technology drives a continuing evolution of how work is done, and where it is done. Part-time work, contract employment, and consulting are becoming more and more a necessity, not only a choice for many people. William Bridges, author of the widely-acclaimed book JobShift: How To Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs, says that as companies strive to stay lean and flexible, they hire people for projects or assignments rather than for entire careers. The current trend is that within companies, jobs will become more fluid, with cross-functional responsibilities and a team-orientation to getting the work done.

Strategies To Survive and Flourish

What can you do to manage your career in this ever shifting world of work? Here are some starting guidelines:

Start thinking of yourself as a self-employed consultant regardless of where you work or want to work. Take the responsibility of managing your career and don’t wait for someone else to do it.

  1. Start thinking of a job as an assignment that lasts 4-7 years if you’re lucky.
  2. Assess your skills and learn to present them clearly to potential employers.
  3. Be flexible and adaptable, and acquire multiple skills. Just having technical skill in a particular area isn’t enough, you need business know-how and management skill to go along with it. Employers are looking for people who can handle multiple functions.
  4. Expand and update your skills, and keep them up to date. Everyone MUST BE PC-literate.
  5. Learn to be a marketer. You will have to market to your client or your customer whether you are within or outside an organization.
  6. In a tight market, look for opportunities to work on the other side of the table from what you used to do.
  7. Educate yourself about what’s happening, not just in your industry, but in other industries, domestically and globally, so you can spot the opportunities that lie ahead for you.

Good luck! Harriet Greisser, Director of Executive Labor Market Research, Right Associates.

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