New York (CNN/Money) If the start of the New Year had you hoping for more upbeat job prospects, you've no doubt been disappointed. For far too long, job market surveys have resembled those winter weather forecasts you get in the northeast: you know, more of the same cold stuff.
Well, it's still winter out there, and the cold spell where job opportunities are concerned isn't expected to let up anytime soon.
The U.S. economy lost some 200,000 jobs last year and the number of classified job ads placed in newspapers nationwide has fallen to a 40-year low, according to Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, which tracks job data.
At the same time, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that companies expect to hire 3.6 percent fewer grads this year.
"The real question is, at what point are [employers] going to stop being so cautious and hire again?" Goldstein said.
That's a question on many job seekers' minds. The good news is, there are some glimmering signs of hope. For example, one survey of 16,000 employers by Manpower Inc., a temporary staffing service, indicates that 20 percent of employers plan to hire more staff during the first three months of the year. That's a slight improvement from the 1 percent who planned to do so a year ago. Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a study this week that indicated 28 percent of senior executives in the U.S. plan to hire new workers in 2003.
Of course, job availability depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which include one's profession. Here's a look at the industries for which hiring prospects are heating up.
Financial types from accountants to financial analysts and comptrollers have more robust career opportunities these days thanks to two factors: the economy and the recent spate of corporate scandals. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed last year, makes CEOs and CFOs responsible for signing off on their companies' financial statements. As a result, companies are "building a bigger infrastructure to make sure the CEO isn't hung out to dry." That means hiring more accountants and financial analysts to crunch the corporate numbers, said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
At the same time, the struggling economy has made it increasingly important for companies to save money. Experts such as cost accountants are being hired to go over companies' books line by line to see what they're spending on everything from cell phones to insurance so they can eliminate waste.
The need for health care workers also continues to grow. That's particularly true for health care practitioners who deal one-on-one with patients. By the end of the decade, projections show there will be a shortage of 1 million nurses nationwide. Other health care specialists, from pharmacists to therapists, also will be in demand as Baby Boomers continue to age.
That said, the hiring frenzy for such pros has already begun. On Monster.com, the online job listing service, the number of open positions for health-care practitioners shot up 58 percent over 2002 and the Web site expects to see more growth, said Colleen McGrath, a spokesperson for the Web site. For more on health care jobs, see The Highest Paying College Degrees.
Construction jobs, fueled by the housing boom, have also remained plentiful in the past year, and the need for skilled workers isn't abating. In fact, 16 percent of construction firms plan to hire during the first three months of the year a period of time when building is normally slow - according to the Manpower study. That said, construction jobs will become available faster in some parts of the country than others. Specifically, demand for workers in the northeast will lag other parts of the country where it's warmer for the first part of the year due to the winter weather, notes Manpower. However, the industry remains among the top 10 in terms of new staffing for 2003.
"If the economy picks up by end of second quarter we may see the labor market stirring," says Goldstein. "The thing to look for is not the national market, but localized improvement that spreads out and becomes a national trend. Look to the south central east coast Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. Those were hot growth areas before the recession and they might catch fire again if construction starts back up in places like Birmingham."
Defense and security
Anyone who's watched the news or picked up a paper knows that the United States is in the midst of a military buildup for a potential war with Iraq, with troops being sent to serve in the Middle East. That's helped push defense spending up and that spells opportunity for a host of wage earners who work in the industry. This includes line workers in plants that manufacture military equipment and purchasing agents who help buy products for the military. It also includes biochemists who work on preventative measures for bio-terrorism and engineers.
Meanwhile, military reserves are being gradually called up to serve. If that trend continues and those reserves leave jobs behind, says Challenger, there may be a ripple effect throughout many industries as employers hire temporary workers to fill vacated positions.
Sales and marketing
Sales, advertising and marketing jobs seem poised for a more robust comeback in the coming year. Nearly two in 10 job postings at the career Web site, Monster.com, are for such positions more than any other kind of job, McGrath said. Moreover, employers continue to staff up in these fields at a steady pace. Want ads on Monster for sales and advertising jobs were up 17 percent last year and should continue to grow, McGrath predicted.
"Companies cut back a lot last year and the effects of those cutbacks are being felt. Companies are starting to realize that it's tough to generate revenue with a lean sales force," said Jennifer Gilbert, senior editor at Sales and Marketing Management magazine.
That said, those who stand the biggest chance of getting hired will have extensive experience in one kind of field, said Gilbert. "Companies are looking for specialists in an area, such as someone in the healthcare industry for healthcare sales, as opposed to hiring generalists."