Author Archives: Lee Koslow

About Lee Koslow

Lee Koslow is a workforce development professional, working for RochesterWorks, Inc., Monroe County's largest employment and training initiative.

Are the Fastest-Growing Occupations Really the Best Choice?

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the occupational employment projections for 2016 to 2026. Almost immediately, the media outlets began publishing articles touting the fastest-growing (and bashing the fastest-declining) occupations. Here is a brief rebuttal to all of those articles.

Percent change in employment, whether it be growth or decline, does not tell the whole story about an occupation. Some fast-growing occupations have very few openings. Conversely, some rapidly declining occupations have many openings, largely due to the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. Let’s consider a few examples in the tables below.

Fastest growing occupations

Notice that the four fastest-growing occupations highlighted in red are projected to have fewer than 5,000 annual openings nationwide.

Fastest Declining Occupations

Notice that the two fastest-declining occupations highlighted in green are projected to have greater than 15,000 annual openings nationwide. Granted, due to the decline, a worker may have a greater risk of being laid off from one of these jobs. However, which would be the better choice—an electrical and electronic equipment assembler job with 18,200 openings or a bicycle repairer job with only 2,100 openings?

Of course there are other factors to consider, such as salary, working conditions, and skill and interest matches. And that is exactly the point. We should not make hasty career decisions based on overhyped lists of fastest, biggest, or best.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an excellent short video on understanding labor market data.

For more information on the occupations with the most openings, please see my LinkedIn post.

 

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The Best Career Decisions Use Local Information

A local college recently announced a new program to train occupational therapy assistants, citing 41% national growth through 2022 and a persistent labor shortage.

As a job seeker how could you decide whether to invest over $45,000 of your tuition dollars in this program?

Enter the Long-Term Occupational Projections, 2012–2022, for New York State and its 10 labor market regions. These data were just released by the New York State Department of Labor. They tell you the demand for about 700 different detailed occupations, both statewide and in your local area.

Click here to download the chart.

How to Read the Chart

1. Identify your occupational title, which is sometimes easier said than done. Suppose you are looking for information on occupational therapy assistants. That one is not too difficult because there is actually an occupational title named “occupational therapy assistants” (try not to confuse it with occupational therapists or occupational therapy aides). However, you will find that the list is not sorted alphabetically by occupation. To find your title you will need to use Microsoft Excel’s Find function. If you still cannot find an occupation that matches the job title you had in mind, try searching for it on www.onetcodeconnector.org.

OTA1

2. Check out the Employment numbers. The first tab on the chart is for all of New York State. Note that there are projected to be 2,570 occupational therapy assistant jobs statewide in 2022, 520 more than there were in 2012. That is a growth rate of 25.4% over 10 years—pretty impressive, but not quite as high as the nationwide growth rate cited in our first paragraph. Of course the most important piece of information on this chart is the Total number of Annual Average Openings—just 100 per year. Half of the openings are due to new job growth, half due to replacements for people leaving the occupation.

3. Take a look at the wages. Remember that if you have no experience in the occupation, you will likely start near the entry level. If you can find a job after graduation, $39,720 is probably a high enough annual salary to start paying back those inevitable student loans.

OTA2

What About Your Local Labor Market?

Information for the Finger Lakes Region, which includes Monroe County plus eight other surrounding counties, can be found in the fourth tab on the chart.

OTA3

Notice the Total number of Annual Average Openings in the Finger Lakes—zero! (There are actually at least three average annual openings, but rounded to the nearest 10, that equals zero). Thirty or more annual openings would be a less risky number for the Finger Lakes. Some high-demand occupations have 100 or more annual openings.

Entry-level wages for occupational therapy assistants in the Finger Lakes are also a bit lower than statewide—$36,440 annually.

Can You Trust These Numbers?

The Long-Term Occupational Projections are usually fairly consistent with numbers of actual job openings. But for several reasons they are not accurate in every case. So you should always verify them by doing a real-time search on job search web sites.

I performed a search on www.indeed.com for occupational therapy assistants within 50 miles of Rochester, NY, expecting to find only one, or none. To my surprise I found at least four unduplicated, full-time, regular jobs posted. I also found a number of part-time, per diem, or travel jobs. So this was one of those instances where the long-term projections underestimated the number of openings.

Supply and Demand

We cannot discuss demand without also looking at supply. In the labor market demand represents the number of job openings. Supply represents the number of qualified job seekers competing for those jobs. For example, until that new occupational therapy assistant program starts pumping out graduates, we may very well have a labor shortage—even with a relatively small number of annual openings. However, if the college starts graduating 15 occupational therapy assistants per year, we may end up with an oversupply. Graduates of the program would then have to be open to working a travel job or relocating. The long-term projections show that more than half of the statewide openings are likely to be downstate.

So Should You Pursue That Occupation or Not?

When in doubt, get some advice. College counselors can give you an idea of the market for the jobs they prepare you for. But keep in mind that their perspective is limited to the educational programs offered by their school. And admissions counselors at some colleges may advise you with the motive of filling a recruitment quota.

Your local career center is a great place to get a second opinion. If in Rochester, come see us at one of the RochesterWorks! Career Centers. Elsewhere in New York State, find your local career center at http://labor.ny.gov/career-center-locator/.

Opening image from publicdomainpictures.net

When Should You Apply for a Seasonal Job?

If you are considering taking on a seasonal job, the time to apply is now. Retail hires peak each year in October and November. So why start searching in September? A New York Times article published last year indicated that it takes companies about a month on average (23 business days) to fill a new job. That is why you really need to apply now to be hired a month from now.

Average Retail Hires per Month (Click on image to enlarge.)

Companies such as Kohl’s, UPS, FedEx, and Wal-Mart have all made big seasonal hiring announcements in September. And according to retaildive.com, “many of these jobs will differ from retail positions of years past. Many seasonal positions this year are expected to be at warehouses and in fulfillment as e-commerce shopping increases.”

Update (11/19/2014): Seasonal job postings appear to have peaked last week. So, is it too late to apply for a seasonal job? Not yet. The chart above is still showing a high number of online seasonal job advertisements. As long at the number remains above 80,000, you have not missed your window of opportunity.

Jobs With Search Term Seasonal Rochester

For 7 reasons why you should apply for a seasonal job, check out my post on LinkedIn.

“Many employers are looking for someone who did the exact same job last week. You have to somehow get beyond that…[and] find a company that is looking for skills and talents rather than specific, recent experience.”—Elmer Smith, Programmer Analyst for Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield

Success Story: What It Takes to Move From Long-Term Unemployment to a Stable Career

Elmer Smith has been working as a programmer analyst for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for the past eight years. However, the transition to his current job was anything but simple. At one time Elmer was among the long-term unemployed and struggling to get back into the workforce. Read the following interview to learn how he succeeded.

Question: I met you in 2004 sometime after you had been laid off from your job at Genencor. What was your role at Genencor?

Elmer Smith: My role when I was laid off from Genencor was officially a senior applications analyst. Basically I was a software applications developer, mostly in the area of Lotus Notes. I was involved in a few other things as well, including doing some modeling for manufacturing plants.

Q: How long had you worked there?

ES: Genencor was a merger of pieces of several different companies, including Eastman Kodak. I had worked for either Kodak or Genencor for 28-1/2 years. Software was not my original field. I was originally a chemical engineer.

Q: Was this your first time being laid off?

ES: Yes, I had been continuously employed ever since I graduated from college.

Q: How did you feel at the time, and what was your initial expectation for getting back to work?

ES: I was very discouraged when I found out about my layoff because after more than 25 years with one employer, I thought that I would probably retire from there. My initial expectation was probably that it would take me 2 or 3 months to get back to work. I am really a dually qualified person (chemical engineer and applications developer). My perception was that there were positions in both areas in Rochester, NY.

Q: How long did it take you to land your current job, and what was difficult about your job search?

ES: It took about 16 months to land my current position with a couple of short temporary or contract positions in between. What was very difficult about it was that people didn’t really know how to classify me. Software people would tell me, “You’re a chemical engineer.” And engineering people would tell me, “You’re a software person.”

Q: One thing that I recall that has made you stand out is that you really embraced the idea of networking. For example, you started sending out a quarterly e-mail update to your networking contacts, which you still send out periodically. Was networking difficult for you, and if so, how did you push yourself to do it?

ES: Yes, networking was difficult. It’s not something that I had historically done very much. But nothing else seemed to be working. It helped that I had a few networking groups that I met with regularly.

Q: How did you make the transition from working for a manufacturing company to working in a similar role for a health insurance provider?

ES: I took advantage of a bit of good luck. I went to a job fair in the mall, and I was originally not going to meet with Excellus at all. My focus was on manufacturing companies, as well as a major utility company.

But I happened to engage in a casual conversation with someone at the Excellus table, and when she found out that I had worked with Lotus Notes, it resulted in a series of interviews, which led to a job offer. Looking back, it was not such a drastic change. In manufacturing I was transforming matter and energy into a product. In health care I transform data into information.

And it’s almost as though you need to have a critical mass of activity in your job search before it can amount to something. Around the same time that I was being considered for the Excellus position, other opportunities started to emerge.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to the many long-term unemployed individuals still looking for work, what would it be?

ES: Many employers are looking for someone who did the exact same job last week. You have to somehow get beyond that. You may have to find a company that is looking for skills and talents rather than specific, recent experience. It seems that employers are finally moving back toward that.

What My Online Jazz Course Taught Me About Career Counseling

Even if you do not like jazz, please keep reading. This analogy works for whatever genre of music or form of art that you do like.

I recently completed an online jazz appreciation course, and when I began I could only use layman’s terms to describe what I liked or disliked about a particular song. During the course the professor’s goal was for us to progress to the point where we could use jazz terminology to support our musical preferences. So, “I liked it because it was energetic and the band had a trumpet (my son plays the trumpet in his high school band)” became “I enjoy the combination of blues and bebop, as well as the trumpet player’s motivic development.”

What does that have to do with career counseling? Job seekers can usually describe in layman’s terms what they like or dislike about the jobs they have had. When counseling them, what if we help them to see how their preferences translate into workforce development terminology? Would that help them to understand their personal traits better, and would they then be more likely to make better career decisions?

Here is a before and after example to illustrate how this strategy would work.

Counselor: You scored very high in the Realistic interest area and your highest work values are Relationships and Working Conditions. Have you considered training to become a computer user support specialist?

Job Seeker: Huh?

Now let’s try an approach where the counselor helps the job seeker to understand their experience in terms of workforce development terminology.

Counselor: You told me that one of the things you enjoyed most about your last job was fixing the machines when they broke down. That confirms your high Realistic score on your interest profiler. A person who scores high in the Realistic interest area enjoys finding practical solutions to problems.

Job Seeker: Yes, that really sounds like what I like to do.

Counselor: Also, you didn’t like the competitive environment among your co-workers and wished that you could have had some customer contact. That matches well with one of your high scores on the work importance profiler, Relationships. Now there are a few occupations that allow you to fix things and still have some customer contact. One of them that is in demand, pays a reasonable wage, and offers some job security is computer user support specialists. You might call the person who does that job a help desk technician. Could you see yourself doing that?

Job Seeker: Well, I don’t know. How could I qualify for a job like that?

Of course, many of my readers could lead that discussion much better than I could. In the career to counselor ratio I am about 90% career and probably only 10% counselor. But I am hoping that I was able to present the concept in a way that makes sense.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this idea. And if you try it, please let me know how it works.

Image above from publicdomainpictures.net

What Kind of Job Can I Get If My College Major Is…

This question is sometimes difficult to answer because colleges and the workforce do not always speak the same language. That is the bad news.

The good news is that you can translate between the CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) codes used by colleges and SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) codes used in the labor market.

Sometimes the translation is obvious—for example, B.S. in Electrical Engineering to Electrical Engineer. Other times it is more complicated. Consider a degree in Communications, which will not get you a job as a Communicator. So what will it get you?

Here is a web site with a useful crosswalk from college major to job title: http://www.onetonline.org/help/online/crosswalk. Simply plug in the name of your degree program, and you will get a list of occupational matches.

Unfortunately, you may find more matches than you expected. For example, the crosswalk lists more than 20 different types of communication degrees. So you will have to choose the one that makes the most sense to you.

Of course, in the world of the job seeker, we just crossed the street without looking where we are going. You would do better to look before you cross. What I mean is that you would really benefit from choosing your desired job (or at least the job family or industry cluster) first and then finding a degree program that will get you safely to your destination.

Image Source: Dogmadic, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/436457

Beverage vs. Adler

Lou Adler offers an interesting perspective on the Labor Department’s job openings numbers in his post “The Feb 11 JOLTS Report Predicts…” I am really glad that he discussed the JOLTS numbers. It is important to look beyond the two pieces of data—the official Unemployment Rate and the monthly jobs report—on which the media fixate.

There is a trend that comes out of the job openings numbers that you should be aware of: The Beveridge curve. (Okay, I admit that I intentionally misspelled it beverage in the post title so that I could use the soft drink image). The Beveridge curve takes the job openings rate and compares it to the Unemployment rate. As the job openings rate goes up or down, so does the Unemployment rate.

Here is why you should be especially concerned about the relationship between job openings and Unemployment today. In 2010 the Beveridge curve shifted up and to the right where it has stayed through the end of 2013. That has been evidenced by relatively high Unemployment at a time when there are high numbers of job openings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes this situation as ‘inefficient job matching.’ It is a source of frustration for both businesses and job seekers and a real challenge for workforce professionals.

So, is the coincidence of high numbers of job openings and high Unemployment a cyclical issue that will eventually correct itself? Or is it a reflection of a real lack of skills among workers? We cannot be certain. But anecdotal evidence suggests that businesses should focus on developing the skills of their workers and job seekers should take the initiative to build their own skills.

If the data really interest you, information about the Beveridge curve can be found on pp. 19–23 of this document.

Opening soft drink image is from publicdomainpictures.net.