A million new jobs in the last three months! (That’s for November, December, and January; February’s numbers won’t come out until this Friday.) Be that as it may, the last time we saw a million jobs created in three consecutive months was…the last three months of 1997. Seems like ancient history, doesn’t it? And to boot, our current level of job growth, which will be even higher when the preliminary numbers for January are revised in a few days, has produced a couple of interesting phenomena that, moving forward, we need to examine.
A quick aside. No, I am not abandoning my oft-stated feeling that the only job creation number than really matters to you is “1” – the job you either do or don’t have – and that this is far more relevant than all those macro stats. However, there’s something happening beyond the numbers, but (paradoxically) we need a few more numbers to understand it. So here they are, and then we’ll make something out of them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job openings rose 3.7 percent to five million, the most since 2001. Job openings are jobs employers would fill immediately but aren’t doing so because candidates aren’t showing up with the requisite skills. You’d figure that, with 8.98 million unemployed people in the workforce, employers would be able to fill 5.0 million jobs and, in one fell swoop, bring the unemployment rate down from 5.7 percent to 2.4 percent (I know, unrealistic). But numbers are numbers, and that’s what we’re dealing with for the moment. Further, job openings also reflect employers’ anticipated needs, and when that number is going up, it’s a very strong vital sign. Nonetheless, those jobs remain open. Hold that thought.
Next, total hires also rose 1.9 percent to 5.1 million. Yes, 5.1 million people got hired in December (these numbers lag by a month). At the same time, the quits rate rose 2.1 percent to 2.7 million. That’s how many people voluntarily quit their jobs – without having necessarily secured another. Think about that. When’s the last time we saw that kind of confidence? Hard to remember, no?
Now, while all these things were happening, the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percent to 5.7. On the surface, you might see that negatively, but with all those jobs created, this little blip happened because more than 700,000 people re-entered the workforce, not all landing a job yet. This, by the way, is a key indicator.
So, put it all together, and a most impressive number jumps out, one that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, but one I’ve been emphasizing strongly of late. That number is the ratio of unemployed candidates to each open job, now a peachy 1.7. In 2009, that number was a horrific 6.5 to one – six and a half candidates fighting it out for every available job. As I’ve been saying, that was a mob scene out of your control. But now at 1.7, it’s a horse of a different color. When you realize that 2.0 to 1 is what we’d call a “fair fight” – just you and the other guy – then 1.7 is, if your skills are up to snuff, a fight stacked in your favor. When’s the last time…oh, never mind.
So now, let’s make something out of all this, first with a little historical perspective. Back in 1997, when I started my independent coaching practice (May will be 18 years. Geez!) – and when the job market was roaring – it was easy to advise people to consider making big career changes. That was defensible advice.
Then things changed, and so did my advice. September 11, 2001; an ensuing job market stagnation that saw modest job growth and low but stubborn unemployment rates; a brief but small surge in job growth in 2004-2005; and then the worst economic downturn in 80 years, all made me change my tune. No daring moves, no bold ventures, just do whatever you have to do to hold on tight. And, if you were out of a job, that was no longer the time to jump into a new area; it was tough enough to get back into where you were. So in one decade, we went from “Go get it!” to “Forget it!”
But now there’s plenty of evidence – both statistical and anecdotal – to support new
thoughts of making those moves. Careful though. I don’t want you interpreting that to mean that I’m advising you to throw caution to the wind, but if the sustained numbers and the historical perspective don’t grab your attention, then probably nothing will.
So what are we saying here? Yes, this might just be the time to consider making the big move that was virtually unthinkable for the last decade and a half or so. But be a “Career A.P.E.” (Assess-Plan-Execute), be like the good carpenter who measures twice and cuts once, and then make your move. Of course, this path is not for everyone (not even any need for many people who are on steady career paths), but if this thought has been intriguing you of late, yes, you should have every reason to follow your thinking.
The time may well have come to make your move.
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