Bloomberg BNA Survey Reveals Improving Employment Outlook for Second Quarter

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The overall employment situation will continue to improve in the spring of 2015, according to projections from 158 respondents to Bloomberg BNA’s latest survey on the hiring outlook, layoffs and job security.

Technical/professional and production/service employees will see somewhat stronger job opportunities in April, May and June than in the first quarter, while office/clerical job prospects remain fitful, with prospects likely to fall back in the spring. Despite some setbacks and volatility, the hiring outlook for each of the three nonmanagement employee groups covered by the survey has strengthened considerably since early 2014. Moreover, workers continue to face a very minimal threat of job loss or layoff.

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Bloomberg BNA Survey Reveals Improving Employment Outlook for Second Quarter

Employment Situation for Three Employee Groups

  April - June 2015
All Size Industry Region
  January - February 2015
Small Large Mfg. Non-
South North
Projections for next quarter show: Production/Service Employees (158)
  • Increase in workforce 25 24 28 50 21  7 25 24 24 32
  • Decrease in workforce  2  2  3  5  0  2  0  4  2  0
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  9 10  5  2 12 10 11  6 10 12
  • Some jobs difficult to fill 17 18 15 33 13  7  7 17 24 16
Projections for next quarter show: Office/Clerical Employees (158)
  • Increase in workforce 15 15 15 14 17 12 18 13 10 28
  • Decrease in workforce  3  3  5  2  5  0  7  6  0  0
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  3  3  5  0  3  7  4  0  4  8
  • Some jobs difficult to fill  8  8  8  5 12  2 11  6  4 16
Projections for next quarter show: Technical/Professional Employees (158)
  • Increase in workforce 34 34 36 26 35 41 32 33 25 56
  • Decrease in workforce  3  3  0  5  3  0  0  6  0  4
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  4  4  5  2  3 10 11  2  4  4
  • Some jobs difficult to fill 54 47 74 62 43 66 46 54 53 64
Note: Figures shown in the columns above are percentages. A total of 158 employers responded to this quarter's survey, which was conducted in January and February 2015.

Job prospects for technical and professional employees have recovered from a brief setback in late 2014. More than one-third of all responding employers (34 percent) expect to hire additional technicians or professionals in April, May and June of this year, up 2 percentage points from the first quarter and a six-point gain from projections for the last three months of 2014. Overall, technical/professional workers' job prospects have brightened substantially over the past 15 months, despite the temporary loss of momentum at the end of last year. The recent gains follow roughly three years of very sluggish employment opportunities for professional and technical employees.

The technical/professional hiring outlook appears especially strong--and improved--in the nonbusiness sector (e.g., hospitals, schools, municipalities), where 41 percent of responding employers intend to expand their technical/professional staffs in the second quarter, up 8 percentage points from projections for both the previous quarter and April, May and June of last year. Reports of imminent technical/professional job growth in manufacturing (26 percent) climbed five points from first-quarter projections, as well as from reported hiring plans for the second quarter of 2014. Although the percentage of nonmanufacturing firms anticipating technical/professional expansion in the spring (35 percent) is down a bit from the previous quarter (37 percent) and a year ago (36 percent), the hiring outlook for professionals and technicians in the nonmanufacturing sector has been very solid for more than a year.

Recent ups and downs in production/service job opportunities will extend into the second quarter, with prospects turning upward this spring. One in four surveyed establishments (25 percent) plans to expand its production/service workforce during April, May and June, up from 21 percent in the first quarter and unchanged from a year ago. While production and service workers have yet to see steady improvement in their hiring outlook since a sluggish 2013, their overall employment prospects over the past five quarters have been decidedly better than in the previous year or so.

Following marked improvement in mid-2014, the hiring outlook for office/clerical workers has been very inconsistent. Fifteen percent of employers plan to increase their office/clerical staff levels in the second quarter, down from 21 percent in the first quarter and 18 percent a year ago.

The overall employment outlook continues to be bolstered by a paucity of layoffs and reductions-in-force. Just a handful of employers had office/clerical workers (3 percent) or technical/professional employees (4 percent) on layoff in January and February, extending a pattern of very low layoff incidence for those workers that began in early 2014. Reports of production/service workers on inactive status (9 percent) climbed five points from three months earlier, but remain far below levels recorded during the recession and its aftermath.

Workers' risk of job loss will remain very small through the spring. Barely any surveyed employers plan to reduce their production/service (2 percent), office/clerical (3 percent) or technical/professional (3 percent) workforces during April, May and June.

Professional and technical job vacancies remain a formidable and growing challenge. Over half of all responding employers (54 percent) had difficulty filling technical or professional positions in early 2015, the largest percentage having trouble with those vacancies since the first quarter of 2008 (56 percent). The dearth of qualified technical/professional candidates is particularly acute among large firms (74 percent), manufacturers (62 percent), nonbusiness establishments (66 percent) and Western employers (64 percent).

Other vacancies are far less trouble. Just 8 percent of employers had any difficulty with office/clerical vacancies, and 17 percent were hard-pressed to find qualified production or service job candidates.

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