June Numbers Tell Job Seekers to Get New Skills

By Jeremy Greenfield, Special to AOL Jobs

Just when hope beckoned from the job market, anemic growth in June suggested job seekers may have a more difficult time finding work as the U.S. economy added only 18,000 jobs and unemployment rose to 9.2%.

Economists had predicted that as many as 100,000 more Americans would be working in June. The private sector added 57,000 jobs while government agencies slashed employment, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Headwinds that were slowing job growth – like the Japan earthquake, unusual Spring storms and high oil prices – were expected to abate somewhat in June, spurring growth.

"This is a stubborn job recovery. It was predicted to be a stubborn job recovery. And it will continue to be a stubborn recovery," said Jeff Joerres, CEO of ManpowerGroup, the global recruitment and staffing firm. "If you're in the hunt for a job, we know it's a difficult job market, and it's going to remain a difficult job market."

There is some good news. After a first half of 2011 that saw the private sector add only 945,000 jobs -- not enough to move the unemployment rate down -- a new survey says that employers across the country will hire more in the second half of the year.

According to a survey of 2,662 U.S. hiring managers by CareerBuilder.com, 47% of companies plan to hire this year, up from 41% last year. The survey also indicated that more companies will be growing headcount than will be cutting staff.

Even a strong second half of 2011 may not alleviate the pain for many who are unemployed.

"No matter how low we get the unemployment rate, even if we crack 8% right around the [Presidential] election, it's still not going to be low enough to feel good for the overwhelming majority of people on Main Street," said Diane Swonk, chief economist and senior managing director at Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based financial services firm. Still spooked by the credit crisis, companies are hoarding cash and aren't convinced that economy is growing strongly enough to justify permanent hires.

Nonetheless, there are pockets of activity where job seekers should focus their attention, according to Swonk. Retail sales, some areas of manufacturing, communications and health care are just a few, she said, and those who may have some applicable skills in those areas should pursue careers there.

"Skills are transferable. Re-think where you are and how can you transfer your skills into another sector. If you can sell one thing you can sell another," she said.

For those who may need to update their skill-set, Swonk recommends looking into community colleges and training programs. "In today's world having that one little extra skill, that one class on project management, whatever that may be, that can be the deciding factor in today's labor market," said Joerres.

In addition to acquiring new skills, those who have been unemployed for a year or more should consider changing careers or even taking lower-paying jobs to avoid what Joerres calls "the long-term unemployment trap."

"The skills the companies require are changing so fast that if you're out of the job market for 18 months or two years, your skills have become antiquated in the eyes of the employer," said Joerres. "You might be waiting for the better fit or the pay you used to have, but you're greatly reducing your chances by staying out of the game."

Truck drivers and lower-level healthcare workers are in demand, Swonk points out, and those jobs, unlike some jobs in manufacturing and technology, aren't going away and can't be outsourced.

"You might be able to get someone abroad to look at your x-ray, but you'll still need someone here to help you out of your wheel chair," she said.

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