Tight labor market gives workers clout
More Americans switching jobs, careers
More Americans are switching to different industries, and sometimes even careers, when they change jobs in a sign that the tight labor market is giving workers more leverage with employers.
Michael Fick has been job-hopping the past couple of years — from general manager of a restaurant to mortgage loan originator to business development specialist for a company that operates mobile and manufactured home communities.
He says his restaurant experience — in customer service and overseeing a business — helped him land the other two sales gigs, which required similar skills. He now earns more than twice his restaurant salary and works about 40 hours a week instead of 60, leaving more family time. But he also cites a more favorable market.
“Things were changing and the market was getting better,” says Fick, who lives in Ferndale, Mich. “There were certainly options out there.”
About half a million U.S. workers left one job for another in the fourth quarter, up from 406,000 in the same period in 2015 and 365,000 two years ago, according to estimates by private payroll processor ADP. That trend largely has been reported by the Labor Department and reflects a more vibrant job market.
But ADP, which, unlike Labor, can track employees as they move among jobs, also finds that more of them are shifting into new sectors, such as a marketing manager who leaves retail for finance. In eight of the 10 major industries tracked by ADP, the share of job-switchers who came from a different industry increased from late 2014 to late 2016 while the share swap- ping jobs within the same industry fell. That’s up from seven of 10 sectors that met that criteria in the third quarter.
For example, 45% of workers switched jobs within health care in the fourth quarter, down from 51% two years earlier. Meanwhile, the share of new health care workers who previously worked in professional and business services increased to 17% from 15%, and the portion who had worked in the industry grouping that includes retail, transportation and utilities rose to 15% from 13%.
ADP handles payrolls that cover about 20% of private-sector workers and says it uses that data to make estimates for the entire private labor force.
While the data can be volatile, staffing companies say the trend mirrors what they’re seeing. After the recession of 2007 to 2009, employers had their pick of unemployed workers and many insisted on hiring those who had prior experience in the same industry. Now, with the unemployment rate near a 10-year low at 4.8%, many employers are struggling to find job candidates and are being far less selective.
“They’re having to as a result of ... a lack of available talent,” says Amy Glaser, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing. A growing number of banks and retailers, for example, are hiring restaurant general managers to oversee branches and stores, she says.
The trend is also being
driven by risk-takers who are more confident they’ll find a new position and are less fearful of being laid off.
“Employees are in the driver’s seat and are able to steer their careers in different directions,” says Sunny Ackerman, vice president of Manpower U.S.
While most workers who switch to a different industry stay in the same occupation, a growing number are hopping on different career tracks, staffing executives say. (ADP’s data doesn’t distinguish between employees who change careers and those who simply switch to a different sector.) Some low- and mid-level manufacturing workers are moving to call-center customer service jobs, Ackerman says. And fast-food cashiers are being eyed for the warehouse jobs that have proliferated with the explosion of online shopping, which requires rapid delivery from distribution centers.
Both positions demand employees who are comfortable working odd hours in a fast-paced environment and can use tech- nology, whether computerized cash registers or barcode scanners, Glaser says.
To smooth such transitions, more employers are offering to train newly-hired workers, Ackerman says, after scaling back such career development in the wake of the recession.
Millennials are benefiting most from the more fluid job market. After the downturn, many young adults fresh out of school were forced to take jobs for which they are overqualified. Now, they’re moving “to positions more suited to their education and skill sets,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which helps ADP compile its data.
That, he says, can help bolster productivity, which has been sluggish in recent years, partly because of mismatches between worker skills and job requirements. Higher productivity can strengthen economic growth. Job switchers are also increasing their income more sharply than workers in the same job. Among full-time workers, job switchers overall netted a 5.1% increase in pay in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, compared to 4.3% for job holders, according to ADP.
“Employees are in the driver’s seat and are able to steer their careers in different directions.” Sunny Ackerman, Manpower U.S.