Latest Job Report Predicts Brighter Days for the Unemployed

unemployedJust days after Punxsatawney Phil, the famous weather-predicting groundhog, pointed to an early spring, the job numbers coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics also predicted brighter days for the unemployed.

The unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent, its lowest level since April 2009. The private sector only added 50,000 jobs, but strong manufacturing job growth indicated that there will be more to come. The sector added 49,000 jobs in January.

"When jobs start to be added in the manufacturing sector, that means that jobs will start to be available in a variety of industries and a variety of geographical locations," said Jodi Chavez, senior vice president for Accounting Principles, a division of Adecco, a human resources firm.

The Monster Employment Index, a monthly gauge of U.S. job demand based on online job postings, was up 7 percent year-over-year in January with all 28 metro areas surveyed showing growth. The index showed particularly strong growth in engineering, technology and health care.

-- See Tech Layoffs May Be Over With Industry Poised to Hire

But what does it mean for the average job seeker? It means that the "jobless recovery" should abate soon.

"The average job seeker should feel a little better that there will be more jobs out there," said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight, an economic research firm.

In the previous two recessions (in 2001 and 1991), hiring picked up about 20 months after the official end of the recession, according to a 2003 policy paper from the Congressional Research Service, a research body that works for the U.S. congress. The last recession officially ended in June 2009. That makes February 2011 month 20, when job growth should accelerate.

"If you've been out of work for a while -- the number of long-term unemployed has been at historic highs -- when the jobless recovery ends is a time to renew your search, reinvigorate it, because times are getting better on the jobs side," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm.

Areas that will see the most job growth are energy, banking, technology, leisure and hospitality, food service and health care, according to Challenger.

The problem for most people looking for work is that they don't possess the skills necessary to get those jobs. Businesses say they can't find enough qualified people, according to Challenger. Getting trained for new skills will be key for those who want new jobs in 2011.

"If you're looking for certain kinds of jobs that require skills that you don't quite have, tell them [the company you are applying to] that you'd be very happy to go to classes, go to school at night, to learn on the job -- let them know that you'd be happy to gain those skills," Challenger advised.

The work force is split between those with skills who are getting paid more and those without who feel pressure on wages, according to Bill Driscoll, district president for New England at Robert Half International, a recruiting and staffing firm. Robert Half predicts salaries in technology will increase 5 percent this year while salaries in finance and accounting will increase 3 percent.

Chavez said that temporary employment will also be fertile territory for job seekers in February and March 2011,

-- See Wall Street Upheaval Creates Role For Temps

"If you are unemployed, look for temporary services that cater to your industry or skill set," Chavez said.

While the economy is still more than three years away from reaching pre-recession employment levels, according to Challenger, the growth this month in manufacturing indicates strong short-term opportunities for a number of workers -- especially in the automotive sector.

"That's Detroit, which needs to see recovery," Chavez sai. "There's a lot of sub-contractors and vendors supporting auto manufacturing. That's nationwide. And from there you'll see professional services -- companies will start to grow again, which means increases in administrative costs: human resources, marketing, finance and accounting, sales and IT."

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