December jobs report: The malaise or the sunrise?

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Posted by Joel Capperella

January 7, 2011

Perhaps the element of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) monthly unemployment report that I like least is the politicization of the results. The analysis of the report is far too frequently spun to suit the needs of the analyst and confirm the point he is driving at.

Secondly, looking at these monthly numbers can at times be a little much. A four-week period of employment sometimes doesn't tell you a whole lot about the trends. There can be multiple factors that generate anomalies. Often, a single report that covers four weeks might not be enough to uncover what those factors are or how they affect the data.

Today's report is no different. Those who want to see the sunrise are touting the numbers as a heaven-sent proclamation that the long awaited end to the Great Recession is finally here. Meanwhile, those who, for whatever reason, want to spread doom will tell you they are a sign of even worse things to come.

What we try to do here is reconcile what we are seeing on a day-to-day basis with the numbers themselves. And today's report, like the BLS reports for the last four quarters, is a mixed bag. Some good news: The unemployment rate has finally fallen by more than 0.1 percent, and 103,000 jobs have been added. And then some bad: The unemployment rate remains over 9 percent.

And if you take a closer look at the numbers in the context of their cumulative reality (Jill Schlesinger of CBS Money Watch does a good job of that), you'll see that the Great Recession was named as such for very good reasons.

Our take? Cautiously hopeful is how I would probably phrase the mood. Temporary staffing services had a very productive 2010, Yoh included. This isn't surprising when you consider the record rates of temporaries added since September of 2009 (nearly 500,000). Moreover, the Yoh Index of Technology Wages, which will be released next week, shows that tech wages are rebounding a bit after a very difficult third quarter.

More importantly, however, is the front line experience we've had with our clients. There are more projects being scheduled or underway right now than there were this time last year. From Yoh's perspective, the demand for technical temporary staff is higher than normal for this time of year. Not dramatically, but enough to see that the seasonal impact that all staffing providers experience in December and January has been slightly less.

Is this earth-shattering news? Let's just say that it certainly isn't bad news. We see our day-to-day experiences, as well as the monthly BLS report, reinforcing one of the biggest under-reported realities of the Great Recession: The long-term impact it will have on the composition of the workforce in the United States. We are experiencing a growing and consolidated use of the non-employee.

The good and bad news we'll leave for other outlets. Here, we can't underscore enough that the right stance for employers to take is to continue to evaluate your workforce in its entirety to identify where you can better source talent into the organization and nurture it to retain it longer.

Additionally, there absolutely must be an effort made to encourage the disparate players of the organization (procurement, human resources, and business leadership) to better collaborate to ensure that all outlets for sourcing talent are used adequately, and that the processes are not prohibitive, but enable the business to work expeditiously and cost effectively.

Topics: Staff Management, HR Strategies

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