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Grownups with actual work experience may be seeing more daylight. Gautam Godhwani, CEO of Simply Hired, which aggregates job openings from employment websites like CareerBuilder.com, company sites and newspapers, says his site's leading indicator is flashing green. "Before the downturn happened, we had 5 million job openings. This dropped to 2.1 million job openings in the first months of 2009, and lo and behold, in the second half of 2009 the bottom fell out of the economy," he explains. The reverse is now happening. "In the last six months we're back to 5 million jobs in our database. So there are some reasons to be optimistic."
The $64,000 question is, So where are those 5 million jobs? Some of the answer is obvious. Health care and education, the perennial job comets, are doing well. But professional and business services will do well too. That's a category that includes firms like Deloitte but also office-cleaning companies. According to an analysis by Moody's Analytics for TIME, professional and business services will create some 119,000 jobs this year for bachelor's-degree holders. That's more than health care and education will create in the same category. (Health care and education will generate more jobs for graduate-degree holders than will business services.)
There also seems to be a virtuous circle beginning to take shape. CareerBuilder.com reports that 27% of the companies it surveyed across all sectors plan to add salespeople, an indication that firms of all stripes see rising revenue opportunities. At the same time, they will be advertising openings in like numbers for IT and call-center jobs. "In terms of sales jobs, we've seen everything listed from a basic entry-level representative to team leaders," says CareerBuilder spokeswoman Jennifer Grasz. "The company is going out with the sales force to get new business, being supported by the IT folk, and the call center is working to keep the customers they get happy," she says.
Tech Leads the Way
Among the happiest people around will be those working in the technology sector; network-systems and data analysts are the second-fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. after biomedical engineers. No surprise, since companies have been ramping up their spending on software and computer services. For technology companies, it seems, the most recent recession did not exist. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick says his company has doubled in size in the past four years and is hiring artists, animators, designers and programmers. One issue: how to keep them from being spirited away by even hotter companies like Groupon, which adapts social networking to offer discount shopping and is hiring 150 people a month in Chicago.
Even layoffs seem to lead to opportunities in the tech sector. Ricardo is getting more work from firms that downsized their engineering capability and now can't meet demand. And from venture-capital firms looking to exploit green technologies. "The companies that need help don't have the resources. There's a big look to the outside," says Niederhofer.
The boom in tech-related jobs isn't limited to the technology sector. GE's decision to expand its appliance operations in Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama and Tennessee reflects the way that global growth and the demand for green technology are altering what can be manufactured in the U.S. "We really wanted to create centers of excellence and determine our own destiny," says Campbell. "We've been on an outsourcing path for many years and used that strategy very effectively. [But] when we looked at what was coming up, we said, We have to make the investment."
What's coming up is a new generation of hybrid water heaters, washing machines, refrigerators and freezers. Not only are these devices more sophisticated in their own right, but they also can communicate with the evolving smart grid, thereby minimizing energy use, lowering operating costs and emitting smaller amounts of greenhouse gases. GE wasn't certain that it could outsource these higher-value products to other countries at a competitive price. But it is certain that these product lines have to be operational by 2014, when new energy regulations take effect.
The decision to keep lines in the U.S. is underpinned by a conversion to lean manufacturing, in which everyone involved in making a product design and manufacturing engineers, suppliers, labor, even marketing and salespeople works together on it from concept through production. And because the team is focused on one product, there is a cycle of continuous improvement, resulting in cost savings. (There are further savings in energy costs since goods don't have to be transported long distances.) "You get better and better," says Kevin Nolan, the head of technology for GE's appliance unit. "You increase the skill set of the combined workforce."
GE sees lean manufacturing, long popular in the car industry, as a way to lower manufacturing costs as much as 30%. In making refrigerators, for instance, GE hopes to knock off three to four hours of direct labor for each piece, saving more than $60 per unit given wage and benefit costs of $20 to $22 an hour. Across the country, in fact, unit labor costs have fallen, setting a model for a more competitive U.S. workforce in high-end manufacturing.