Slow and steady wins the race: This month’s BLS unemployment report

Each month as I sit down to look over the April BLS unemployment report, I amuse myself by keeping my Twitter feed open in Tweetdeck. There, I have two columns. One labeled "left" and another "right." As you would suspect, the columns offer news and views from each side of the political fence.

Invariably, the left column always finds good news in the BLS report. The right side seems to always point out the negative. I suspect that if John McCain had won the presidency, the positive and negative tone would be completely flipped.

What we always try to do here is offer an objective perspective on what the numbers mean to those who are tasked with managing elements of their workforce in the near and long term. We also do our best to recommend appropriate actions to take in response to the job growth trends.

First, our perspective on the numbers. An expansion of the workforce is perhaps the biggest takeaway from this month's report. The uptick in unemployment to 9.9 percent might be explained by the approximately 195,000 discouraged workers deciding to reenter the workforce.

It's difficult to dissect the exact details behind the 0.2 percent increase. But the fact that more unemployed are seeking employment would indicate a modest increase in confidence that job growth will continue.

The overall job growth numbers were encouraging, but approximately 22 percent of the new jobs were temporary census workers (66,000). Manufacturing and construction contributed 15 percent and 9 percent respectively, exposing the fragility of the current recovery.

Finally, temporary jobs continue to increase. They account for the most consistent job growth since September 2009 (26,000 positions added in April and 330,000 since September 2009).

Now what?

Everything we've written in response to the BLS numbers since early this years still applies, but with steady growth. We now want to offer up the recommendation to take inventory of all the drastic measures and processes that were established in the face of the Great Recession.

Engagement. Assuming that you have instituted a strict segmentation discipline across the entire workforce, the most appropriate first step would be to evaluate how engaged your employees (full time, part time, and non-employees) are in contributing to the objectives at hand. Sometimes lost in the rush to plug necessary holes in workforce expense is the connectivity that workers have to their jobs, and the company as a whole. Recovery brings greater confidence in workers to evaluate their current condition. It would be wise to get ahead of a potential exodus. (Check back next week for a full series on employee engagement.)

Leverage Implemented Processes. In the likely event that your organization has transitioned independent contractors into a staffing program, consolidated the mix of talent suppliers, and clarified the suggested and appropriate use of both independent contractors and temporary employees, the time is now right to better enable the business to leverage these changes. The easiest place to gain the most value is a periodic review of the non-employee segment of the workforce to establish utilization action plans. We have seen  many organizations leverage temporary worker use policies to create transitional teams that move to where they are needed, when they are needed. Initially created to mitigate the cost of sourcing and negotiating better rates with suppliers, these policies promote active talent planning.

Performance Metrics. Benchmarking full and non-employee levels not just by total dollar value or headcount, but against the areas in which they are employed, drives a more strategic workforce plan for the next planning cycle. It is likely that while overall full time staff levels have decreased, those of temporary and contracted levels have increased. Reconciliation of where and on what projects this talent is placed will allow for evaluation of whether or not that mix is sustainable. If it is, the planning cycle will allow for consideration of that particular type of non-employee against next year's strategic objectives. If it is not, permanent sourcing strategies can begin to be established. Recently, we wrote about project-oriented recruitment -- a very viable alternative to quickly address immediate needs for full time employees.

That concludes this month's objective perspective on the BLS and recap of useful recommendations to consider. As for me, one quick glance back to my left and right columns for a quick laugh.


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