People@Work: As Spring Blossoms, So Does the Nation's Jobs Outlook


As the economy continues to brighten, a growing number of employers are once again hiring. What's more, the gains aren't limited to certain sectors. Rather, a broad swath of companies within the Fortune 500 -- from health care providers to retailers to defense contractors to insurers -- are looking to fill 60,000 openings.

The businesses include some of the best known in the U.S., such as Sears Holdings (SHLD) which is looking to fill nearly 22,000 positions; HCA and Northrop Grumman (NOC), 4,000 each; UnitedHealth Group (UNH), 3,200; and New York Life, more than 3,500, according to Fortune.

The uptick is being driven in part by better-than-expected profits that are helping to fill corporate coffers. Among big banks, many of which laid off thousands of workers after the 2008 financial crisis, JPMorgan Chase (JPM), the nation's second-largest bank, has announced plans to hire nearly 9,000 new employees.

Technology Is Hiring Again

Other big banks are likely hiring, too, says John Challenger, CEO at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based employment services firm. Looking strictly at operating income, he says, "many of those banks are doing very well and the earnings statements that came out prove that."

Another sector showing signs of much improved hiring is technology. Challenger points to Intel (INTC), the world's largest chip maker, which plans to add up to 2,000 positions in manufacturing, and research and development. And the sector is poised to see more growth. Amid the recession, many firms halted spending and begged off replacing computers or updating software.

But with the lifespan of many tech components limited to two or three years, a growing number of firms will find it necessary to loosen the purse strings and upgrade. "That's a real job creator," Challenger says, not only for manufacturers and developers, but for service personnel who make the rounds at corporate offices to install such components.

'Long and Difficult' Recession

If the job picture appears more robust than just a few weeks, that's because it's human to be overly pessimistic during and immediately after a recession, Challenger says. "Especially in this recession. It's been a long and difficult and slow moving recession" that really struck at core sectors of the economy. That's way different from dot-com bubble that burst about a decade ago.

While there has been some job growth in manufacturing, Challenger says there haven't been substantial gains. Still, that's better than bleeding jobs. A cheaper dollar on world markets is helping by making U.S.-made goods cheaper abroad, but still the sector faces big challenges, such as foreign competition and the lingering effects of the recession.

One example is the U.S. auto industry. Though carmakers expect to sell a million more cars this year than last, 2010 is still likely to go down as one of the worst in recent memory. But that hasn't stopped General Motors from adding or restoring more than 3,000 factory jobs in recent weeks at plants in Ohio, Kansas, Maryland and New York in response to increased demand, according to the company's website.

Challenges for Younger Workers

When it comes to younger workers, the spring and summer months could prove challenging for teens and twentysomethings, as well as recent college graduates. Challenger says he's more optimistic today than just a few weeks ago, but a recent survey by his firm showed continued weakness in the market for entry-level jobs.

About half of the human resource executives polled said the outlook for this year's college graduates is roughly the same as
last year, while 28% of respondents were marginally more optimistic, saying that their expectations are slightly better than a year ago.

Still, after putting hiring on hold for so long, many companies need to refill their pipelines with fresh talent, Challenger says. "They need those people coming through."