Some Hiring Plans Down, Layoffs Up Slightly, Employment Outlook Reveals

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Employment opportunities for technical/professional employees and office/clerical workers will diminish during the fall, while production/service candidates should see some modest improvement in their hiring prospects in the fourth quarter, according to projections from 154 human resources executives participating in Bloomberg BNA's latest survey on the employment situation and outlook.

The apparent decline in technical/professional and office/clerical opportunities follows two consecutive quarters of rising job prospects for both employee groups. Workers' risk of job loss remains small—and still much lower than during the recession and its aftermath—although the survey findings suggest a slight increase in layoff incidence during the third quarter.

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HR Article Chart, 9/8/14

Employment Situation for Three Employee Groups


  October - December 2014
All Size Industry Region            
  July - August 2014
Small Large Mfg. Non-
South North
Projections for next quarter show: Production/Service Employees (154)                  
  • Increase in workforce 24 23 27 50 18 13 14 29 32 11
  • Decrease in workforce  3  2  6  6  1  5  0  3  2  7
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  8  7 12  6  8 13  4  9  7 15
  • Some jobs difficult to fill 20 20 21 36 15 15 21 22 15 22
Projections for next quarter show: Office/Clerical Employees (154)                  
  • Increase in workforce 16 15 18 11 19 13 18 19 12 11
  • Decrease in workforce  5  3  9  0  4 10  0  5  7  4
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  7  7  9  3  9  8  4  9  2 15
  • Some jobs difficult to fill  9  9  9  6 11  8  4 12  7 11
Projections for next quarter show: Technical/Professional Employees (154)                  
  • Increase in workforce 28 29 24 22 33 23 29 28 29 26
  • Decrease in workforce  3  2  6  3  3  5  0  2  2 11
Current quarter began with:                    
  • Some employees on layoff  6  6  9  3  9  5  4  7  2 15
  • Some jobs difficult to fill 38 36 42 39 35 41 36 34 41 41
Note: Figures shown in the columns above are percentages. A total of 154 employers responded to this quarter's survey, which was conducted in July and August 2014.                    

Following two straight quarters of improvement, job opportunities for technical and professional employees will fall back to levels observed from mid-2013 through early 2014. Less than three out of 10 surveyed employers (28 percent) plan to expand their technical/professional staffs in October, November and December, down 7 percentage points from projections for the third quarter (35 percent) to roughly the same level recorded a year earlier (27 percent).

The projected decline in office/clerical hiring prospects also follows two quarters of rising job opportunities. (Patterns in the office/clerical job outlook have mirrored trends in technical/professional opportunities over the past year or so.) Sixteen percent of responding HR executives expect to hire additional office/clerical employees during the fall, sharply lower than the percentage planning office/clerical expansion three months ago (23 percent) but still a somewhat better hiring outlook than for the last three months of 2013 (12 percent).

The weakened hiring outlook for office/clerical and technical/professional employees is especially acute among larger organizations (1,000 or more employees), which had spurred much of the improvement in those workers' employment opportunities over the previous two quarters. About one in four large establishments (24 percent) plan to add technical or professional staff in the fall, down from nearly half of large firms responding three months ago (46 percent). Similarly, the percentage of large enterprises projecting office/clerical workforce growth plummeted to 18 percent from 32 percent.

Production/service workers' hiring prospects have not exhibited steady improvement since 2011, so the projected uptick in those employees' job opportunities might be viewed with some skepticism. Nevertheless, nearly one-quarter of surveyed employers (24 percent) plan to expand their production/service ranks during the fourth quarter, compared with 20 percent three months ago and just 18 percent of firms reporting their hiring plans for the last three months of 2013. And over the course of 2014, the hiring outlook for production/service employees has proven somewhat better than in 2013.

The job outlook for production/service employees remains especially strong--and improved--in the manufacturing sector. Half of all responding manufacturers anticipate production/service workforce expansion during October, November and December, up 7 points from projections for the third quarter and the highest percentage of manufacturing companies expecting production/service growth since the third quarter of 2006.

Reports of employees on layoff edged up for all three nonmanagement employee groups covered by the survey. Those modest increases probably should not set off any alarm bells, however, as the percentages of employers with production/service employees (8 percent), office/clerical workers (7 percent) and technical/professional staff (6 percent) on inactive status still represent fairly low levels of layoff incidence. Moreover, barely any of the responding HR executives predicted reductions in their production/service (3 percent), office/clerical (5 percent) or technical/professional (3 percent) workforces during the fourth quarter.

Professional and technical vacancies still pose far greater difficulties than office/clerical or production/service openings. However, the percentage of employers reporting problems filling professional/technical jobs (38 percent in July and August) declined 11 points from three months earlier, to its lowest level in four years. One in five organizations had difficulty finding qualified production/service candidates during the third quarter, up from 15 percent in both the previous quarter and the third quarter of 2013.

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