The Labor Day Talent Race Is On!

People with the right skills are in a sweet spot across the U.S.

Portrait of a chef
Shutterstock San Francisco needs more up-and-coming chefs.


Here's something worth celebrating over the Labor Day Weekend: For the first time in years, there is a scramble for talent out there, as labor shortages pop up for people in the right places with the right skills.

A new nationwide poll of human resources executives from Challenger, Gray & Christmas indicates that an overwhelming majority of American employers are grappling with talent shortages in key business areas. Most respondents said they expect the situation to get worse.

Worse for them, that is. Talent shortages historically lead to shorter job searches, higher salaries and more options for experienced professionals.

In the poll of about 100 human resources executives across a wide range of industries, 77 percent said their companies were having difficulty filling open positions due to a shortage of available talent. Fully 91 percent expect that it will get even harder to fill open positions. None said they had no currently open positions to fill.

About half are already offering incentives, including relocation assistance and hiring bonuses, or bonuses for current employees who refer successful candidates.

With monthly job gains expected to continue for the foreseeable future, "unemployment will keep falling and the competition for workers will keep growing," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement consulting firm.

Top Jobs

Candidates with technology skills top the most-wanted list. Fully 45 percent of human resources professionals cited a need for qualified technology staff.

This broad category can include professionals from software engineers to medical technicians, and the demand reaches far beyond Google or Microsoft. "Virtually every industry is technology dependent in one way or another and they all need workers who can manage, operate and repair that technology," said Challenger.

After technology, the skills most in demand fall into the categories of finance, manufacturing and management.

The shortage of candidates is especially severe in particular regions of the U.S. Although the nationwide unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, a total 160 metropolitan areas have jobless rates that are lower than the national average, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of those, 62 metro areas show an unemployment rate under five percent. A jobless rate of five percent is considered "full" employment for a healthy economic balance.
Woman builder with calculator on white
Shutterstock Detroit is looking for number-crunchers.


The Right Stuff

That's good news for people in the right places with the right skills:
  • In San Francisco, home of Google and scores of other technology companies, you might expect strong demand for technical talent. But what the city really need is a few good cooks, according to a local business journal. There is no shortage of master chefs at the top. The demand is for lower-level assistants, but the city's high cost of living has younger aspirants looking elsewhere.
  • In Boston, companies are struggling to fill positions for web developers and computer engineers, the Boston Business Journal reports. Smaller startups are being left in the lurch as bigger and better-established companies outbid them for talent. A CareerBuilder search for technology jobs in the Boston area lists more than 1,200 related openings, from entry level positions to vice president.
  • Even Detroit, poster child for the last recession, is experiencing a hiring war, at least for qualified accountants. According to Crain's Detroit, accounting firms are wining and dining candidates, offering higher salaries, and even adding bonuses or extra vacation time to lure new hires to the city. A quick search in CareerBuilder turns up nearly 300 jobs in the category of accounting in Detroit, not just at auditing firms but in medical billing departments, student financial planning offices and payroll departments.

That is not to suggest that everything's rosy in Detroit. The metro area is still suffering a 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

However, it's important to note that accounting jobs are a bellwether for the jobs market, a sign that new businesses are being established and existing businesses are expanding.

The Numbers

Over the last year, payrolls nationwide have grown by an average of 214,000 new jobs per month. Since February, that pace has increased to an average of 244,000 new jobs created each month.

The number of Americans on US payrolls finally returned to pre-recession levels only in May, surpassing the 138,365,000 employed in January 2008.

In addition to the increased hiring, the number of job openings is also on the rise. In June, the latest month for which data, is available, employers reported having 4,671,000 job openings at the end of the month.

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