Unemployment Rates and Recruiting: Digging below the numbers

By Ravi Devatha

As recruiting and HR professionals work to rebuild our workforces post crisis, we continue to see the far-reaching effects of the pandemic touching almost all aspects of our everyday lives. Even with past financial collapses, natural destruction and moments of great tragedy, we are hard-pressed to single out one historical event that affected our entire beings, all at the same time. From our personal health and home life, to how we work and learn, and even to how we spend our free time, the impact of COVID-19 will likely be defined as the most all-encompassing global challenge we have experienced for decades to come.

In terms of the economy, while we’ve experienced downturns, albeit some quite devastating, often times the industries affected were very specific, allowing for experts to trace back to the trigger event and formulate plans to course-correct. The ebb and flow of the continual reality of COVID-19 is something extraordinarily different however because of its grand-scale and subsequent waves.

With locations across the globe often seeing steps forward, then backwards, at a rapid pace, a massive web is spun consisting of multiple industries and areas needing immediate but different attention, all at the same time. Take for example the U.S. employment landscape. When we examine the current collective unemployment rate for the US, it is hovering near 8% according to the September 2020 Employment Situation Summary. Yes, it is a staggering number compared to most recent years, including the average of 3.7% just in 2019, but based on the spring 2020 rate reported at nearly 15%, the height of COVID economic shutdowns, it is thankfully a number that we are seeing trending down. It also doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.

Frightening unemployment numbers when broken down to the local level make planning more manageable

While the overall number is of great concern, there are industry and location factors that contribute to the employment landscape, which are particularly important to recruiters who focus on local job growth and who are actively formulating their own plans to course-correct.

For instance, while Massachusetts’ state unemployment numbers released in August for July claimed a 16.1% unemployment rate, simply looking at those numbers at face value doesn't tell the whole story. A review in August suggests that pre-Pandemic, the Bay State was booming with jobs – therefore it had that much farther to fall because of its expanded labor force now ground to a halt. Plus, with many jobs heavily focused in the retail, entertainment, hospitality, service and education sectors – all of which we can agree were hit the hardest because of shutdowns and social distancing measures – it made sense that recovery would take longer as the state follows specific reopening rules.

Add to the mix the high university student population, many who had graduated amidst a jobless outlook, and we can understand that Massachusetts has a unique set of challenges to address.

For recruiters however, the jobless grad students present a mobile opportunity. Students returning home may be at a point in their life status to pursue a job anywhere, and recruiters can help make those connections. Having not necessarily placed down roots upon graduation, these new job-seekers may have greater flexibility in reaching far beyond their surrounding communities for new opportunities.

Keeping track of the ever-changing line graph

Of course, you can set your watch by how quickly numbers will change (for better or worse), opening up new avenues or changing direction for job hunters and the recruiters looking to place them. In fact, by September’s rate release, Massachusetts already started showing improvement, no longer taking the top spot it held just the month prior. Now with a 11.3% unemployment rate, the sharpest decline for a state, areas that were struggling, particularly in industries that relied on foot-traffic, are showing positive gains, as more phased re-openings occur. Let’s see what the next data release brings.

Utah on the other hand, seems to have evaded the prolonged downturns experienced in other geographies, steadily improving from the initial pandemic-induced employment plummet. With Utah’s 4.1% unemployment rate, just a fraction below Nebraska which touted the best rate in the latest bls.gov release, this state represents a step in a positive direction, even though some hard-hit sectors like hospitality, service and leisure remain a challenge. With this challenge, also comes an opportunity for recruiters to reshape the outlook. By reaching out to displaced talent with a focus on reskilling and retooling, recruiters can perhaps help change the trajectory on the work prospective for affected individuals. Working with prospects to share guidance and resources on how they can market their transferrable skills into new industry segments can keep the wheels turning.

Recruiting and hiring decisions supported by sound data

With recruiters being no strangers to innovation and creative thinking when placing talent, they can also take advantage of new technology that not only helps them locate and rank job seekers according to skill, but provides market conditions as well.

A first-to-market PaaS like QuantumWork will aggregate and provide an overarching, single view to all talent – including past and present permanent and contingent workers, as well as new grads and displaced workers. Couple the talent data portal with its in-depth analytical reports that outline job market conditions according to locale and industry, and recruiters can know who to place where at the right time, making a significant impact on helping our economy recover.

These new insightful tools are here to support the specialized knowledge recruiters already possess for the communities they serve. By having an expanded view into the talent that is really out there, the skills they have to share, and the job markets that have open opportunities, recruiters and hiring managers can begin to rebuild workforces more quickly based on the accurate and timely talent data now available to them.