Repainted Parachutes: How Employment Bounces Back

Health and mortgage companies are still hiring. And tech will return someday.
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Despite the job hemorrhage occurring in America, opportunity has not been wrung completely from the economy, experts say. And for those who can afford to be patient, jobs in certain high-growth areas are bound to return.

Economists and employment pros say demand for workers has been growing in the health care, insurance, mortgage banking and defense sectors. And these sectors -- beneficiaries of the present economic and political situation -- will lead the charge when the recovery takes hold.

And believe it or not, beaten-down industries such as consumer services and technology will bounce back eventually. Because they have been so thoroughly eviscerated, experts say, these areas could be among the biggest sources of job creation when the economy bounces back.

"We have a very strong health care industry, and a strong security and public sector," said Barry Lawrence, senior career adviser at CareerBuilder.com, a career listings Web site. And the hospitality and travel industries, which are "suffering more from fear than anything tangible," will be among the first out of the gate.

Though the near-term outlook is grim, we're still in "a new economy that's going to flourish around tech," Lawrence said. "It's tech that's going to come back and lead us to the new frontier."

Situation Wanted

To be sure, employment trends, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks, are brutal. Unemployment rose to 5.4% in October, according to the Labor Department, as payrolls fell by 415,000 -- the largest drop in two decades. The bloodletting came mainly in the manufacturing sector, which has shed 1.3 million workers since July 2000. The services industry, which experienced a sharp dip in travel-related employment in the wake of the attacks, lost 111,000 jobs in October, the largest monthly decline on record.

During the latter half of the '90s, the U.S. economy was generating more than 200,000 new jobs a month, said Ken Goldstein, economist at the Conference Board. Once the economy turns, 50,000 or 75,000 new jobs could be created a month, said Goldstein, who estimates recovery could come next summer. "We're going in that direction, but how soon and how strongly, I'm not too sure," Goldstein said.

Job seekers should look at companies that will "continue to do more hiring and grow if the

government's stimulus package does take effect," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm. He suggested defense, health care, insurance, energy and social services as potential growth areas.

Ivan Gordon, vice-president at ATS Professional Services, an executive search and consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., called the federal government the "one very hungry buyer right now," and said some candidates are being called about 20 times a week by recruiters. Government jobs currently average about 16% of total payrolls.

Sectors that continued to hire in October include the mortgage banking industry, which added about 3,000 people last month, the real estate industry, hiring 2,000, and local government, excluding education, which employed 26,000 more workers in October.

Job growth in health services slowed in October, but the industry has added nearly a quarter of a million jobs so far this year, according to the Labor Department.

Resource Reallocation

According to Challenger, 266,578 jobs have been lost in telecom, year to date, the most of any sector. On its heels are PCs, industrial goods, automotive, financial, food, leisure and retail.

"I don't think manufacturing payrolls will go back to levels seen before 2000," said economist Jeff Hall at Thomson Financial/IFR, "mostly because high-tech, and telecom, continues to have tremendous overcapacity." Manufacturing now represents about 13% of total payrolls, compared with the 26% of 30 years ago, Hall said.

Nevertheless, the lasting importance of innovation makes tech know-how more valuable than ever. Wages have remained firm in the tech sector, said Hall, and "that's a signal that these skills remain in high demand even when a lot of talented people have been laid off."

Ken Ramberg, co-founder of JobTrak.com, a jobs listings and resume service firm targeting mainly college students, said there's still a "significant shortage" of technical labor in the U.S, and with the number of baby boomers due to retire, "there are just not enough new college graduates to fill those openings."

"Some of these jobs will never be replaced," said Hall, but "in their place will be something newer and more exciting."