Nation’s jobless rate drops; temp and tech hiring remain strong locally

The nation’s unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 9.4 percent in December, the largest one-month drop since the recession began.

The number of unemployed fell by 556,000 from November, to a seasonally adjusted 14.5 million while nonfarm payroll employment increased by 103,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, December 2008 through December 2010.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, December 2008 through December 2010.

While there are some positive trends in the national numbers, they do not necessarily translate into the same trends for Minnesota, which has seen its unemployment rate typically run about 2.5 points below the national average.

For example, construction in employment in particular has been hard hit in Minnesota, with the unemployment rate running ahead of the national average in that sector. As reported earlier this week by MinnPost, Minnesota’s construction workers account for nearly one-third of the state’s jobless claims through November 2010.

The national numbers brought more bad news for that sector as construction employment dropped by an additional 16,000 in December and the industry’s unemployment rate hit 20.7 percent, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Heavy and civil engineering construction, the category most likely to be affected by the stimulus and other temporary federal programs, experienced the largest decline within the construction sector, dropping by 12,700 for the month, association officials noted.

Temporary hiring was strong both locally and nationally in the second half of last year, according to Tim Stormoen, Twin Cities branch manager at professional staffing agency Robert Half International,

“A lot of companies went through downsizings and, at this point, are still reluctant to add full-time staff until they understand where their organizations are going.” He expects that trend to continue locally this year.

“Microsoft-related positions are in demand, especially on the web development side,” for both permanent and temporary positions, Stormoen added.  He also has seen strong demand for help desk positions on a temporary and contract-to-hire basis.

He also sees some companies paying employees referral bonuses for bringing friends in for specialized positions. “If a company wants to go out and hire on their own without using an agency … they get more qualified referrals than online postings or doing an ad.” A year ago, they weren’t doing any hiring, so referral bonuses were dead, he noted.

Robert Half recently released a nationwide study reporting that “the most highly sought roles are positions many people may not have heard of” such as technical developer for enterprise resource planning, data modeler, user experience (UX) designer or senior business analyst.

Today’s BLS report showed employment rising in leisure and hospitality and in health care but little change in other major industries. Over the past 12 months, an additional 1.2 million people have been added to the employment rolls, with the number of unemployed falling by 727,000 and the unemployment rate dropping a half-point.

But the number of those only able to find part-time employment (8.9 million) remained essentially unchanged while the ranks of discouraged workers rose 389,000 to 1.3 million from December 2009.

Minnesota’s unemployment numbers are scheduled for release on Jan. 20.

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