To a certain extent, employment in education is cyclical. Demographics affect enrollment, which affects hiring, but demographics also play a role in retirement. Forecasters predicted baby boomers would retire in droves, leaving massive vacancies.
Cress sees the opposite in her district, Wallingford-Swarthmore in Delaware County, where retirement creates her best chance for a teaching job. "I think some teachers are afraid to retire. They are afraid for their financial future."
Meanwhile, public funding for education has been cut, as states and districts cope with reduced tax revenue.When school started in 2008, 8.1 million people were working as public school employees across the nation.
By September 2011, the number had dropped by 240,000 to just below 7.9 million, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
If others in her age group also put off having children, "it is possible we could see a decrease in the school-age population" worsening, he said, the situation for Cress and her jobless peers.
But nothing, so far, has diminished Cress' enthusiasm for what she sees as a calling. "I love the kids I work with," she said. "You put your time in, you do a good job, and good things will come to you. That's what I have to believe."
Kimberly Larned, 23, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J.., changes price tags at her local ShopRite supermarket.
An honors student in human resources at Rowan University, she now manages to make her $260 monthly college-loan payment from the $300 she earns weekly.
While at college, Larned studied HR and loved it. "I always thought I'd be good at management," she said. "But then I saw how HR and management work together."
If there's any job function that acts as a bellwether of the economy, it's human resources. When times get tough, companies keep the human-resources people on long enough to handle layoffs. Fewer employees mean fewer benefits to administer, fewer training classes to run, fewer workplace crises to resolve.
When times improve, the first to be hired are temporary recruiters.
That's happening now, but not enough to benefit Larned, at least not yet.
Young human-resources graduates come out of college "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," said Scott Rosen, owner of the Rosen Group, a Cherry Hill recruiting agency specializing in human-resources job placement.
They are eager to make a difference in the lives of employees, he said, and to participate in business human-capital strategies, even if it means starting out processing health-benefit claims or other employment paperwork.
The U.S. Labor Department predicts growth, 217,200 jobs in the field by 2020. But that's eight years away, and in the meantime, the nature of the job is changing, Rosen said.
"The human-resource generalist trainee position doesn't exist today," he said. "Human-resource graduates are waiting on tables. Hopefully, they have a relative with a business who can hire them."
The Internet has led to other changes. "Jobs that used to be high-touch are now high-tech," Rosen said. "Now, they have a call center. They don't need to have a trained HR person to read off a screen."
Even as the more mundane aspects of the human-resources graduate's job are being handled by clerks, computers, or call centers either here or abroad, senior managers are picking up some of the other more complicated responsibilities that might have been handled by a more junior person, Rosen said.
"The HR generalist is going away," agreed Kate Nelson, an assistant professor in human resources at Temple University's Fox School of Business.
Young people now need to begin as specialists. "Then they grow into something," she said.
She is hearing of a new HR job, "talent sourcing," that seems aligned with the sensibilities of the tech-savvy "millennial generation."
"A talent sourcer," Nelson explained, "uses the Internet and social media to find (job) candidates. Then, recruiters take over to develop the relationship."
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