Jobs reports from the past few months would appear to be very mixed. We’re still growing—adding jobs every month—but that growth has slowed down considerably. Economists explain this trend by citing uncertainty in the market resulting the ongoing convolutions of the European Debt Crisis (which many of these same economists had thought was ‘over’ a month ago). On the positive side of the balance sheet in April, we saw American job gains in business and technology were the strongest, with a total estimated increase of 62,000 being hired on to new positions in the business and tech industries.
But what one hand giveth, the other taketh away. While there has been job growth in the private sector, the public sector is getting soaked with austerity measures that seem fashionable at the moment. With the raging debate about job-creation blasting over the airwaves, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the U.S. government is the largest employer in the country with 3.2 million employees in the Department of Defense alone and close to 700,000 people employed by the post office. Budget cuts on a local, statewide and federal levels have led to a sharp decrease in the number of available jobs for public sector workers. Put private and public job growth together, and you have what Washington Post reporter Brad Plumer refers to as a “soft” recovery.
April’s unspectacular numbers were followed by more unspectacular numbers in May, and we seem to be heading into a summer of uncertainty and volatility—which we should be used to by now, am I right?
But a soft recovery is certainly not “no recovery,” and one must admit, the American economy has come a long way since it bottomed out in early 2009. Total unemployment is currently listed at 8.1 percent, which, while not ideal, is certainly an improvement over the staggeringly high unemployment rate in 2009 and 2010. Many economic experts, however, have cast doubt on the viability of the current unemployment rate. This rate does not take into account workers who are underemployed or who have permanently left the job market (employees otherwise referred to as discouraged workers). Keeping track of these under-the-radar workers is not an easy job.
There is one piece of undoubtedly good news in this mixed message fiasco of a job report: a sharp drop-off in weekly claims for jobless benefits. After a major dip in jobless claims in mid-April, the number leveled off a bit at the end of the month. A slightly less volatile four-week average revealed that claims had decreased by 5,250, resulting in an overall figure of 379,000.
A Changing Market, A Changing Work Environment
While the long-term unemployed face an enormous uphill battle in the search for work, the April 2012 jobs report suggests that all hope is not lost. However, those hoping to re-enter the workforce after a long break will need to brush up a bit on their job-hunting skills. Enormous changes have taken place since the beginning of the recession. Think about it: in 2008, Facebook was still limited to high school and college students. And Twitter was not even on the horizon. Social networking alone has transformed the face of the job market.
So has a great leap forward in HR best practices. A number of basic human resources practices commonly seen in the mid-2000s have all but disappeared. Once a field heavily associated with bureaucracy and paperwork, HR has transformed into a new system of advocacy. Instead of stymying change, HR professionals are at the forefront of new technologies. The existence of applicant tracking software, employee life cycle software and online payroll processing, means that HR and recruiting styles are totally different—more focused and personal—than they were 4 years ago. There will be more stages and conversations to have on your way into a job and, for better or for worse, you are much more likely to start as an external employee, a contractor, a temp or an intern than you were four years ago.
As you are reintegrated, expect to share documents in the cloud, and receive your paycheck as a direct deposit from an online payroll processing service provider. Paychecks in paper form are ancient history in 2012. Expect character tests, and fun activities as part of your onboarding process.
Basically: expect things to be different.