Unemployment Falls to 6.2 Percent as Businesses Continue to Reopen

Optimism is growing as businesses across the U.S. are looking to fill in-demand roles in growth industries – a start to the highly anticipated turn around in the economy. We are joined by Chloe Watts and Tim Baker of Wilton & Bain to discuss the pandemic, hiring, and to forecast their expectations for 2021.

March 5, 2021 – Employment rose by 379,000 in February as the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released this morning. That’s down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April, but still far above the 3.5 percent rate in February before the coronavirus pandemic led to mass economic shutdowns across the country. This marks the biggest gain in four months — in what’s likely to be a preview of a surge in hiring in the months ahead as most people get vaccinated and the economy fully reopens. In February, most of the job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, with smaller gains in temporary help services, health care and social assistance, retail trade, and manufacturing. Employment declined in state and local government education, construction, and mining.

“Even as millions of Americans remain out of work, businesses across the country are looking to fill in-demand roles in growth industries, like information technology, engineering, customer support, manufacturing, and accounting and finance,” said Karen Fichuk, CEO, Randstad North America and Randstad N.V. executive board member. “This dichotomy is being driven by growth in on-site roles, which jobseekers are more hesitant to pursue during the pandemic, and the exit of many Americans – particularly overwhelmed women and caregivers – from the workforce. Businesses can help address this employment gap by ensuring they have the right workplace policies that reinforce safety practices and create a flexible working environment.”

Where Job Growth Occurred

  • In February, employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 355,000, as pandemic-related restrictions eased in some parts of the country. About four-fifths of the increase was in food services and drinking places (+286,000). Employment also rose in accommodation (+36,000) and in amusements, gambling, and recreation (+33,000). Employment in leisure and hospitality is down over the year by 3.5 million, or 20.4 percent.
  • Within professional and business services, temporary help services added 53,000 jobs in February but is down by 175,000 from a year ago.
  • Employment in healthcare and social assistance increased by 46,000 in February. Healthcare employment was little changed over the month (+20,000), following a large decline in the prior month (-85,000). In February, job gains in ambulatory healthcare services (+29,000) were partially offset by losses in nursing care facilities (-12,000). Employment in social assistance rose by 26,000, mostly in -4- individual and family services (+18,000). Employment in healthcare and social assistance is down by 909,000 over the year.
  • Retail trade added 41,000 jobs in February. Job growth was widespread in the industry, with the largest gains occurring in general merchandise stores (+14,000), health and personal care stores (+12,000), and food and beverage stores (+10,000). These gains were partially offset by a loss in clothing and clothing accessories stores (-20,000). Following steep job losses in March and April of 2020 (-2.4 million jobs over the 2 months combined), retail trade has added 2.0 million jobs from May through February.
  • Manufacturing employment increased by 21,000 over the month, led by a gain in transportation equipment (+10,000). Employment in manufacturing is down by 561,000 over the year.
  • In February, employment declined in local government education (-37,000) and state government education (-32,000). For both industries, February losses partially offset gains in January. Pandemicrelated employment declines in 2020 distorted the normal seasonal buildup and layoff patterns in the education sector, making it more challenging to discern the current employment trends in these industries.
  • Employment in construction fell by 61,000 in February, largely reflecting declines in nonresidential specialty trade contractors (-37,000) and heavy and civil engineering construction (-21,000). Severe winter weather across much of the country may have held down employment in construction. Employment in the industry is 308,000 below its level a year earlier. Mining shed 8,000 jobs in February, with losses occurring in support activities for mining (-6,000) and in oil and gas extraction (-2,000).
  • Mining has lost 153,000 jobs since an employment peak in January 2019, though nearly two-thirds of the loss has occurred over the past year.
  • In February, employment changed little in other major industries, including wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and other services.

Search Consultants Weigh In

Chloe Watts, a partner in the people and culture practice (interim) at Wilton & Bain, and Tim Baker, also a partner in the firm’s people & culture practice , recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the pandemic, hiring, and to forecast their expectations for 2021. Following are excerpts from that discussion.

             Chloe Watts

What are some new strategies your firm has deployed to weather the effects of COVID-19 on business?

Watts: As a people business, our response focused on care and engagement, keeping us all well-connected, professionally and socially. We have a rotating buddy system amongst teams to keep people connected with colleagues they don’t regularly work with – replacing the ‘side of the desk’ conversations and monthly town hall sessions switched pretty naturally to digital form. We have also adopted a social networking tool called “Hi Right Now” which is like speed dating with your own colleagues. It’s a great way to catch-up with each other and has a degree of spontaneity as you don’t know who is going to be in your sessions.

Baker: For those living on their own or with challenging working space, we re-opened our London office with COVID-19-secure adjustments for the latter half of 2020. However, the most recent U.K. lockdown in January has prevented this in 2021. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring people get enough time away from screens. The whole firm was awarded holiday from December 18th until the new year to enable an extended break away from the beck and call of email and virtual calls. We can also take an extra day off each month that we are in lockdown. For working parents, we are funding childcare support during this most recent lockdown (the equivalent of half a day per week). Events have been taken digital. We’ve hosted webinars on a breadth of topics from inclusion to pathways to NED roles attended by over 100 executives across Europe and the U.S. We have also stepped up the tempo to provide connection for our broader networks: SWITCH, our senior women’s network has moved from quarterly physical events to monthly virtual events with great success.

               Tim Baker

What are some obstacles that CHROs and senior leaders facing today? What have you seen being done to overcome these obstacles?

Watts: The primary obstacle has been bandwidth. As a function, HR is usually required to run lean and now everyone is looking up at the function to lead on: culture, hybrid working practices, well-being and diversity strategies, digital ways of working and more, all the while running cost-effective yet ‘human’ HR processes. As with everyone else, people leaders are leading through a global pandemic for the first time yet they are expected to be experts in providing ready-formed answers to these complex questions. The CHRO seat is arguably as lonely as it’s ever been. To overcome this, networking groups have proved invaluable and firms that would ordinarily compete have come together. The consulting firms have been quick to respond, drawing on their global experience, especially in Asia who are ahead and have been through a pandemic more recently, for models and ideas. We have seen an increase in the number of HR transformation appointments made. With the CHRO fully occupied, they are appointing people to ensure their own function is fit for purpose as the demand changes.

Baker: In the wider leadership space, we have seen notable examples of much more humble, compassionate and empathic leadership. However, the strain of pandemic leadership has taken its toll with fatigue. Progressive organizations recognize that well-being support must extend to leadership level through interventions such as executive coaching. Leaders are not super-human, at least not 100 percent of the time!

What are some obstacles HR leaders must overcome in today’s work environment?

Watts: For people leaders, the last nine months has seen a marked acceleration. As an example, the well-being agenda has sometimes lacked the commercial rationale to warrant investment: this has irrevocably changed. Reskilling and unleashing potential has been the holy grail of talent management and with better data on people, organizations are becoming better at understanding, developing and deploying capability. Agile methodologies first used in tech businesses and now beyond also support deploying the right resource to the right work at the right time. Harnessing technology to make teams more efficient has happened overnight all over the globe. Where Microsoft Teams used to be an icon on the periphery, it is now a baseline tool. Zoom’s enviable share price hike and Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack demonstrates that tech-enabled collaboration is here to stay.

Baker: When it comes to forward-facing insights and strategic workforce planning, the U.S. are ahead of the U.K. and Europe. Many organizations are improving their data quality and have invested huge sums in Workday, SuccessFactors or Oracle Fusion. In the U.S. this data is being used to predict, organize and discover. We have not yet seen this as widely adopted outside the U.S. but first movers will steal a march on their competitors in these geographies. The evolution of the chief people and places office” demonstrates the impactful role physical environment has to play on organizational culture. As we blend digital and physical working practices, the thread of employee experience is increasingly interwoven into different types of connection and collaboration. We are also seeing the closer alignment of HR and communications – both internal and external. The employer brand and consumer brand are no longer separate entities so combining the messaging for overall brand equity is an ongoing journey.

Related: Major Paradigm Shifts Coming Out of the Coronavirus Crisis

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments