Career Guide 2005
A brightening labor market could make this the time to look for a new job
Breathe easy, workers: The jobless recovery is indisputably over. Some 262,000 new jobs were created last month, with almost every sector of the economy contributing, including manufacturing. That's icing on the cake after January, when the U.S. labor market at long last recouped all of its losses from the 2001 recession. There are now about 300,000 more people working than in February 2001, the pre-recession peak.
Throw in the recent drop in jobless claims and a spike in help-wanted ads, and this very well may be a good time to remind your current employer of your value, consider a new job, or refresh that search for one if you're out of work and have been discouraged about hiring prospects. "All of these forward indicators of labor-market activity are pointing in the same direction: a more robust labor market this spring than we've seen in 12 to 18 months," says Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board.
But this job market differs from those of the past. The biggest gains in jobs are occurring south and west, with workers following the sun in pursuit of careers and employers chasing favorable regulatory and tax environments. Manufacturing, meanwhile, continues its long-term employment decline. The mobility of work that depends less on the availability of natural resources and more on human and computer brainpower is intensifying the shift of payrolls away from the Northeast and Midwest (story, Page 42).
Nowhere is the job boom stronger than in Florida. The Sunshine State generated 291,000 new positions in 2003 and 2004; that's 11 times the average of all states.
That might explain Tanya Cauren's move in January from Bloomingdale, Ill., to Fort Myers. The 44-year-old left her job as director of technical design at Sears, Roebuck to take a similar position and six-figure salary at Chico's. She leads a team of 13 creating the specifications for clothes sold at the apparel chain's White House/Black Market stores. "I took the job because Chico's is in a growth mode," says Cauren.
Founded on nearby Sanibel Island in 1983, the company recently passed $1 billion in annual revenue and is planning a third move in the Fort Myers area to accommodate a bulging staff that will grow by about 150 at its headquarters this year. The jobs range from the company's call center to information technology and product development positions to executive-level spots. Salaries start at around $30,000 and exceed $100,000, says Chico's CEO Scott Edmonds, who has had to look far afield to find the right employees. "If you're going to get a merchant, a marketing person, or a store operations executive, you're going to have to go out of this area." He relies on the local amenities to lure them. "I can tell you exactly what time the sun sets above the Sanibel causeway."
The weather was a minor factor in Cauren's decision to move, but her golden years figured prominently. "I'm building a house with all the bells and whistles because I'm retiring here."
An influx of pre-retirement baby boomers like Cauren, as well as current retirees, immigrants, and others, is driving the economies of Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. According to a study by the Milken Institute, an economic think tank in Santa Monica, Calif., seven of the top 20 job-creating metropolitan areas in 2004 were in Florida. Four were in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Other high-ranking metro areas include Boise, Idaho (story, Page 40), and Fayetteville, Ark., which have been helped by strong entrepreneurial activity and proximity to research universities. A few large metropolitan areas also did well in the ranking, including the Phoenix-Mesa and Washington, D.C., areas, where government spending, especially on defense and homeland security, has sparked a job boom.
In all of the hot spots, the service sector led the way. From preparing fast food to teaching young children to reading X-rays, service jobs will dominate the economy, accounting for 96 percent of all net jobs added through 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The two largest BLS occupational groups are also the fastest growing: professional and related workers, a group of jobs that require a high level of education, such as lawyers, architects, and social workers; and service occupations, a mixed bag with jobs ranging from janitors and fast-food workers to nursing aides and firefighters. The statistics show most job growth occurring at opposite ends of the education and earnings spectrum.
There's a simple explanation, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics Prof. Frank Levy: technology. He and Harvard Prof. Richard Murnane spell it out in their 2004 book, The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market. "Anything that can be automated will be," says Levy. And offshoring is just a component of that. If a job can be expressed in rules, it can probably be outsourced to a worker 10,000 miles away or done by a computer.
That puts jobs involving routine tasks--be they cognitive, like evaluating mortgage applications, or manual, like installing windshields on cars in auto assembly plants--at risk. The very jobs, in fact, that have traditionally occupied the center of the employment spectrum in terms of education and salary. "Roughly speaking, you're seeing this kind of hollowing out of the middle, with growth at the bottom and at the top of the skills spectrum," says Levy.
Computers are also radically altering the skills many jobs require. As late as the 1970s, auto mechanics could learn their trade by poking around under the hood, says Mary Hutchinson, executive director of the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. Because of the electronics aboard today's cars, which have 1,000 times the computing power of the Apollo moon mission, mechanics now need strong science and math skills, and often obtain them through programs at community colleges or similar schools. "It's a whole new world out there," says Hutchinson.
Intuition wins. The jobs of the future will be those requiring expert thinking, like doctors and chefs, and those involving complex communication, like managers and teachers. The intuitive knowledge involved in such work renders it impossible for today's computers or distant workers to perform. Blue-collar jobs that involve nonroutine tasks are also safe, says Levy: It will be a long time before a computer can safely pilot a delivery truck through a crowded intersection or clean an office building.
Or teach a class of 4-year-olds. That's why Patricia Turasz didn't worry when the FBI transferred her husband to Florida from Puerto Rico last year. "We knew Florida is in need of teachers. There's an abundance of jobs here." Next month, she'll start as a prekindergarten teacher at the Primrose School, a local outlet of a national private preschool chain.
Sharon Frank, who founded the Manatee County Primrose School with her husband, says she expects nearly all of the school's 186 student spots to be filled when it opens, and so far she's hired a director and 10 of the 20 or so teachers she expects to employ. "There's a huge demand for quality education programs in this area," says Frank. "We're already planning our second school."
Turasz, 40, has a bachelor's degree in education and chose Primrose and a salary under $30,000 to be near her 2-year-old daughter, who will go to the school. But she could have found better pay in the local public system. Manatee County, just east of Sarasota, has 10 new schools under construction and adds about 150 new teachers a year, with salaries from $32,000 to $64,000. Filling all those spots is a challenge, says Superintendent Roger Dearing, especially science, math, and special education teachers, and it's only going to get worse, with some 40 percent of Florida's teachers within 10 years of retirement. It's a problem for the nation, too: An estimated 2 million additional teachers will be needed over the next decade because of swelling enrollment, turnover, and retirement.
Indeed, three of the 30 fastest-growing jobs are in teaching, according to the BLS. Three are related to the environment, seven are computer related, and a whopping 15 are in healthcare. The other rapidly growing trades are social-and human-services assistants and fitness and aerobics instructors.
Historically, such service jobs paid less on average than those in manufacturing. So the changing mix of new jobs has contributed to meager wage gains over the past year--just 2.2 percent for nonsupervisory workers. But monthly payroll increases of 250,000 to 300,000 through June should change that, says Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics: "As the labor market picks up over the next few months, wages will start to rise faster." Faced with slowing productivity and a shrinking pool of available workers, businesses will have to work harder to attract and keep the human resources they need.
It's already happening, says Allison Hemming, president of the Hired Guns, a New York recruiting agency. "We're seeing a shift from a buyer's market to a seller's market," she says, and workers are suddenly realizing they can demand a little bit more--certainly in terms of salary and benefits, but also in asking for flex time and telecommuting.
On your own. Still, few workers can expect to regain the job security and steady upward march that firms like IBM were once famous for. "Your career is your responsibility; you're no longer going to have a company plan it out for you," says Hemming. "Those days are over."
She tells her clients to consider the freelance-to-full-time scenario. More and more companies want to try out an employee before committing, so workers offered a job on such a trial basis should look at it as an opportunity, not an insult. At this point in the economic cycle, companies are looking for experts, says Hemming, "so don't market yourself as a jack of all trades because you'll come across as a master of nothing." Figure out what expertise the job you want calls for, and make the case that you have it. If you don't, consider getting it. "Master's [degrees] and certificate programs are great," she adds.
Education and training pay, says MIT's Levy. The withering of the manufacturing sector has only widened the wage gap between those with a high school diploma and those with a college degree, he says, and recent data suggesting that the gap has stopped growing probably have more to do with the tech sector shakeout than anything else. "The long-term prognosis is that education is still going to be the key," says Levy.
So education. And healthcare. And technology. And when they intersect, you've hit the trifecta, as did Ed Martinez. Last August, he moved from New Jersey with his wife for a job as chief information officer at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, a nationally renowned research and treatment facility in Tampa. The job entails running a staff of 145 people to meet all the technology needs of a faculty and staff on the cutting edge of fighting cancer.
Those needs are unique, says Martinez, 40, who has a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
For example, before the 1990s, most information at a typical medical facility was on paper or film. Now, with digital picture archiving systems, doctors can view X-rays seconds after they're taken and share them with specialists around the country within minutes. "As CIO, I'm always looking at how we can help the patient and improve the quality of care," says Martinez.
He's uncomfortable about divulging his own salary but will say that a proven CIO at an academic medical facility could be worth well over $200,000 a year. Now that's a job worth moving for.
The states that led the nation in creating new jobs in 2003 and 2004:
STATE JOB GROWTH
New Jersey 98,000
North Carolina 55,900
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
This story appears in the March 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.