(Latest in a series on the impacts of the coronavirus on employment and the workplace. The previous ones are here. The series turns now going forward to rebuilding America’s job base.)
Burning Glass Technologies is among the preeminent data analytics firm worldwide in the employment field. It tracks 3.4 million job listings daily, across more than 50,000 job boards and corporate sites, analyzing these listings by occupations, skills and qualifications requested.
The starting point for the rebuilding of America’s job base is identifying and rapidly filling the jobs that are available and will be soon. Burning Glass data analytics provide insight on the current hiring, and hiring in the next few years.
For the past fifteen years, Burning Glass, based in Boston, has collected data on job listings. It now has more than 1 billion job listings in its database. Last year, KKR bought a majority stake in the firm calling it “the world’s leading real time labor market data source.”
“The market for talent is increasingly dynamic,” said Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass. “Not only are new jobs being born and old jobs dying off at a quickening pace but we are also seeing the skills required across a broad range of jobs changing even faster. In some jobs, up to 40% of the skills required today are different from those demanded just a decade ago. Our work at Burning Glass is to apply big data analysis so that all the players in the job market can get ahead of these changes, instead of chasing them.”
Sigelman has been at Burning Glass since 2002. A Princeton and Harvard Business School graduate, Sigelman sought to understand the world of work through the analytic methods that he had applied in previous stints at McKinsey & Company and Capital One. Burning Glass set as its mission to capture market activity with enough specificity to enable companies to take a data-driven approach to workforce planning, and enable universities and governments to better align their programs with the job market.
I. The sizable hiring even during the depths of the pandemic, and hiring increasing over the past few weeks
Rebuilding employment starts, according to Sigelman, with recognizing the sizable hiring that was ongoing even during March and April, when much of the economy was shut down. Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics latest Job Opportunities and Labor Turnover report found that even in the month of April, 3.5 million hires took place nationwide—well below the 5.1 million hires of the previous month, but still substantial. Burning Glass data on online job postings confirm this positive employment activity even in the depth of the downturn. For the week of March 2, prior to the pandemic, weekly online job postings totaled 757,276. This number then fell sharply in subsequent weeks, but even at its lowest point the week of May 4, online job postings stood at 396,256.
Burning Glass data point to the occupations with most hiring. Between the weeks of March 2 and April 20, Shipping/Receiving/Traffic Clerks was the fastest growing occupation on online postings (59% growth). It was followed by Driver/Sales Workers (28%), Personal Care Aides (4%) and Mental Health Counselors (4%). In absolute numbers, Stock Clerks, Cashiers, and Janitors/Cleaners had the largest number of openings.
In the past month, online job listings overall have increased, and were already up to 493,115 the week of May 25. Sigelman expects postings and hiring to continue to increase. “Job posting activity is a leading indicator of where the economy is going because they represent the level of confidence that firms have in their growth,” Sigelman said. “Over the past month, since many states started reopening, we have seen quite a bit of rebound across virtually all sectors. Many of the first ‘green shoots’ popping up have been in the kinds of proximity-based jobs that fell off first: jobs in routine healthcare, personal services, banking, car repair, and the like. However, we still have a long way to go. The question is how quickly other jobs will return to their pre-COVID hiring levels.”
II. The “Lifeboat Job” and other strategies for navigating the current economy
Sigelman’s advice for unemployed workers in the near term emphasizes “The Lifeboat Job”—described in some detail in “Filling the Lifeboats: Getting Americans Back to Work in the Pandemic”. Sigelman notes that in the current world of job scarcity, unemployed workers need to cast off resistance to taking jobs that are below their educational level, or background level, or skill level. The Lifeboat Job can provide structure and income right away, and often will lead into a better job as the economy recovers.
Lifeboat Jobs are some of the occupations noted above that have been hiring during the past few months and will continue to hire: Stock Clerks, Cashiers, Shipping Clerks, Janitors, Personal Care Aides. These jobs do not require advanced training, education or a license, and will continue to be in demand, even as other occupations may take a longer time to come back. To these, Sigelman adds contact tracer, an occupation with at least a short-term spike in online postings and hiring.
In a Stock Clerk/Order Filler position, for example, a worker not only gains immediate income, but also can gain skills on the job (“Skills You Take Off the Lifeboat”), such as inventory management and data entry, that can lead to better paid jobs in related occupations—cargo and freight agent, postal service clerk, higher level shipping clerk. Similarly, in a personal care aide position, a worker gains skills in patient care, treatment planning and record keeping that can help them move into other health care positions. Even without the additional skills gained, being employed almost always makes a worker more attractive to a prospective employer.
And a W-2 position is not the only type of Lifeboat; so too are the independent contracting opportunities being created by the online labor platforms. Data released this past week in California showed the extent of jobs in the delivery field. Since the start of the pandemic, the four main delivery apps—Postmates, Uber Eats, Instacart and Doordash—have added nearly 100,000 new contractors. These workers have found lifeboats in the apps as easily accessible sources of work and income.
Beyond the Lifeboat, Sigelman urges unemployed workers to take classes online and use the time to gain new skills, especially workers who have the cushion of unemployment insurance. “When employers start hiring back up, they won’t necessarily hire the workers they let go,” Sigelman said. “Instead, they will be looking for people with the skills that will be needed for the future. Whether to stay relevant or to get back to work, you are going to need to develop the skills needed to differentiate yourself. For example, marketing people who build data skills are much more highly sought after than those without them. Now is the time to build those skills.”
III. Glimpses of the Emerging Job Market
Looking further into rebuilding the economy, Sigelman forecasts some broad trends reshaping the job market, in recovery and beyond. For example, Sigelman describes the emergence of what he calls the “readiness economy”. “COVID-19 has forced companies and governments to confront how prepared they are for a crisis, whether in physical infrastructure, public health, cybersecurity, or environmental readiness. We are working now to model what kinds of jobs are likely to be created through such trends.” With data increasingly the lifeblood of industry, companies will focus even more attention on securing their data. That focus is likely to drive an intense scramble for cybersecurity talent overall and for those with the skills to protect cloud-based data in particular.
Beyond the recovery itself, Sigelman sees the potential for a surge in innovation that could lead to increased demand for those with the right skills. “It’s like watching the tremendous growth that follows a wildfire,” Sigelman reflected. “The crisis has been absolutely devastating but it will also force companies to consider new efficiencies, new technologies, and new business models.” There are already early signs that the pandemic is accelerating the pace of automation. “That means that those workers who bring with them both experience with AI technologies and the human skills to drive automation will be in the catbird’s seat in the post-coronavirus economy.” Similarly, Sigelman sees renewed interest in onshoring boosting jobs in advanced manufacturing, and driving up demand for those with key mechatronic and process management skills.