News Column

Job Outlook Showing Signs of Life

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While the current economic recovery has been referred to as "jobless" because of stagnant unemployment rates, signs of an improving job picture continue to trickle in. And as the economy continues to redefine itself to meet the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace, Hispanics and other minorities may even have an edge when it comes to landing the new jobs that are being created.

Today, many companies are looking for minority candidates to help them establish "cultural competence," the ability to respond and gain the trust of consumers from various cultural backgrounds. "Now, more than ever, companies are looking for the best and the brightest candidates that can offer their firms diverse perspectives. Employees from different backgrounds and ethnicities are more creative and offer insight into communities otherwise unreachable," says Myrna Marofsky, president and co-founder of ProGroup Inc., a diversity consulting agency. "The consumer market is becoming so diverse that companies are being forced to hire candidates able to supply the inside track to gaining consumer confidence."

Ms. Marofsky says companies operating in areas sensitive to cultural responsiveness, such as healthcare and medical assistance professions, particularly need to build trust, and are increasingly relying on diversity to bridge cultures. "Not everyone is trusting of companies and professions they are not accustomed to dealing with, and hiring diverse candidates is going to help ease that," she says.

Deborah New of Anthem Inc., the nation's fourth largest health benefits company and the holding company of Blue Cross Blue Shield, agrees with Ms. Marofsky. "At Anthem, diversity brings a number of benefits that align with our core values. Our 12.5 million customers are a varied group our customer focus demands that we service their needs with a diverse group of associates who can best reflect the concerns and cultures of our members."

"Differences among people the way they think and solve problems generates the kind of creative thinking that leads to continuous improvement and innovation. Multilingual and bicultural candidates can bring fresh perspectives to the organization in a variety of ways," says Ms. New.

Specifically, Hispanics account for 7.7 percent of all consumer expenditures in the United States, and well-established corporations launching new products are hiring employees with the cultural insight to target them.

"At this moment, the companies leading in Hispanic recruitment are companies like AOL and ESPN that are developing new products targeting the Hispanic market, for example AOL Latino or ESPN Deportes. Also, companies that because of their size or type of business need to be as diverse as possible in order to give more to their Hispanic customers companies like Citibank or Sony," says Eric Shannon, president of LatPro, a firm specializing in the placement of Hispanic and Latino professionals.

As of March 2004, Hispanic employment increased more than 13.8% from the January 2000 level, while U.S. employment fluctuated around a 2% increase.

Source: Estimates by HispanTelligence based on historical data for series in the Monthly Employment Situation, April 2003, Tables A-1 and A-3, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The Hispanic market is growing and complex, with big differences between subgroups. Companies need more insight from their own people to develop new products or new services," Mr. Shannon says.

Mr. Shannon, who also serves as coordinator of the National Association of Hispanic Professionals job board, sees the recruitment of Hispanic professionals as a major part of the future job market. "For the next year I would expect more private companies to be interested in Hispanics as the Hispanic market is growing and is expected to grow, specifically in the financial industry, the 'service-oriented industries' [advertising, entertainment, media, etcetera] and consumer products," says Mr. Shannon.

Still, being part of a hot market doesn't guarantee landing a good job. Experts say Hispanic job seekers have to rely on persistence and hard work, just like everybody else. "The jobs are out there, you just have to look a little harder and maybe even longer than normal," says Carlos Riojas, president of Riojas Enterprises Inc., a professional services firm in Kansas City. "Even if it means taking a lesser-paying job at first, then either finding that ideal job later, or working your way back up the ladder. People have to treat their job search as a full-time, 8- to 10-hour workday, 40-plus hours-a-week endeavor."

The latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, conducted quarterly by ManPower Inc., a worldwide company specializing in recruitment, indicates U.S. employers expect the seasonally adjusted hiring pace from April to June to be stronger than it has been since the first quarter of 2001. Hiring is expected to improve across each of the four U.S. regions and in all 10 industry sectors surveyed, compared to survey results from a year ago.

Second-quarter job prospects are expected to be best in construction and manufacturing, with construction firms predicting the strongest employment outlook since 1978, and manufacturers expressing their strongest hiring intentions since 2001, according to the survey. Other fast-growing industries and occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are healthcare and medical services projected to create a significant number of new jobs within the next 10 years. Registered nursing is currently the occupation with the largest job growth; medical assistants are the fastest-growing occupation, with an estimated annual job growth of 59 percent; and six of the 10 fastest-growing industries are in the healthcare and medical services field, according to the federal agency.

Opportunities in the job market are extending to college graduates as well. The National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2004 Job Outlook survey found that employers said they plan to hire 11.2 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2004 than they hired from the class of 2003. The survey also shows the best hiring outlook among service-sector employers, who say they are expecting to recruit 16.1 percent more new grads than they did in 2002 and 2003. Manufacturers also are anticipating a strong job outlook, projecting an overall increase of 12.6 percent in college hiring.

"Results from our most recent survey show that the class of 2004 is indeed graduating into a more positive job market than classes from the past few years," says Marilyn Mackes, the association's executive director. Meanwhile, employment summaries earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Labor added to the growing number of positive signs. Construction employment in March increased by 71,000 jobs, pushing industry job creation to 201,000 jobs over the past year. Other areas creating jobs in March were retail trade, which added 47,000 new jobs, and professional and business services, which added 42,000 new jobs.

Still, to increase the odds of securing a job in today's market, candidates have to be creative. "A very small percentage of available jobs appear in the want ads," says Mr. Riojas. "Networking with family, friends, church members, and former co-workers can help. Participating in local chamber events can put you in front of a lot of decision-makers too."

But even networking goes only so far. "Ultimately," Mr. Riojas says, "the people being hired are the ones that have the most knowledge about what it takes to get a job and those that have the most transferable skills, education, and job experience."

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