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2013 Will Be a Great Year for Workers With the Right Skills — and for Companies That Pay Them What They’re Worth

Here at Trilogy Search, we think 2013 is going to be a very good year for employment — the best in a long time. Many companies have been putting off hiring for years, and they won’t be able to do it much longer. It’s like replacing that old car in your garage. You can wait a year or two, but sooner or later you have to recognize that it’s actually smart spending to invest in a new car.

In the past six months, we’ve seen some strong signs that managers are recognizing that they can no longer afford to put off their hiring decisions. The employment numbers are already ticking up, ever so slightly, and it seems all but certain that pent-up demand is going to drive a real surge in job openings in the coming year.

Not only that, but we expect to see an increase in compensation levels, which is natural when demand exceeds supply. Now, we’ve all read stories in the media about companies complaining that they have jobs available but can’t find anyone to fill them. What we don’t hear as much about is that the wages those companies are offering often aren’t appropriate for the skills they’re looking for. Sometimes they’re looking to pay as little as $12.00 an hour, even for skilled labor. That works out to barely $25,000 a year, and in most of the country, that isn’t nearly enough to live on. The reality is, most of those positions would have been filled months ago if applicants were offered realistic compensation.

Very soon, it’s going to become clear that the cost of not filling a position is far greater than filling it, even at a higher salary level. Constantly searching the world for cheaper and cheaper commodity labor, in particular, is bad public relations, bad politics — and bad business practice for companies that need to deliver high-quality products and services to survive and thrive.

This is a reality that is going to cut across many different industry segments, many different occupations and many different skill levels, and we should look at a few of the specific implications (We don’t usually discuss midmarket salary parameters, but this year is different. I’m going to keep things broad here, but I’ll be happy to respond personally to anyone who has questions or comments about your personal situation or the industry you work in.) Here are a few high-level observations about some specific industry segments and occupational classes:

Manufacturing. The hard-hit manufacturing sector is going to show explosive growth in employment demand over the coming year, as consumer confidence returns and pent-up demand for manufactured goods becomes impossible to ignore. And as the need for new workers increases, employers are going to have to offer wages that are commensurate with the talent it takes to fill those roles. Look at the way baseball salaries are going up this year. That’s because Major League Baseball signed a new and much bigger contract with the television networks. And the networks were willing because their advertisers are feeling good about selling the average consumer more beer and chips and trucks and smartphones.

Now, the opportunities aren’t going to be evenly distributed, and workers will need to take a hard look at their skills going into the new year. Certainly, at all levels, the more technical skills you possess, the better your options will be. (The adage we heard so much in 2008, “Friends don’t let friends get into finance,” should be updated to “Friends don’t let friends graduate without technical skills.”) Global knowledge and experience are important, too. As energy costs go through the roof, shipping products halfway around the world isn’t necessarily the best way to reach target markets anymore. Smaller, more agile, more localized manufacturing, logistics and marketing operations enable a company to be visible in many markets at once. Coca-Cola is the perfect example: It’s as much an African or Latin-American company as an American one, because it’s been bottling and selling soft drinks in many different markets — with plenty of local variations — for the past 50 years. Iconic brands from Proctor & Gamble to BMW are copying that strategy, with great success. If you’re already working in the marketplace, look for ways to gain meaningful global experience. And if you’re just starting out, consider spending a year in the Peace Corps. It’s a great way to learn about the world, and do a lot of good at the same time.

Healthcare. This is another area that will show strong ongoing growth in employment. Healthcare tends to be countercyclical, with strong demand even when other industries are not doing well. That fact, along with the increasing number of people turning 65 every year through 2022, means that healthcare will continue to be strong. And the typical positions, such as nurses’ and technicians’ job, will definitely outpace the general market.

Biosciences. The field of biosciences should also continue to grow significantly, but here I’m going to take a sharp turn that you probably aren’t expecting. We don’t think there’s much room for growth  with the large pharmaceutical companies. This sector is too important for us not to keep a close eye on it, but the coming year — and possibly even the next five years — won’t be its finest hour. One area that will probably show major growth will be clinical research organizations (CROs) and other managed services companies, such as Quintiles and a little-known company called inVentiv Health. As large pharmaceutical companies begin to leverage their capabilities into other parts of the world, they’re handing off many of what used to be their core competencies to CROs, and to companies on the commercial side of product support, as well. This is happening fast, and the CROs are hiring a lot of people worldwide. They’re a great place for a young postdoctorate to get global experience.

Energy. Another area of very fast growth over the next decade will be “old” energy. “Green” or sustainable energy will have its place, but we aren’t there yet. And in the meantime, even though a lot of people haven’t noticed, the U.S. has gotten on track to become the planet’s leading exporter of fossil fuels. If that happens — and there’s no reason to believe it won’t — we’re going to need tens of thousands of workers, everyone from typical oilfield workers to geological engineers to schoolteachers in the high-growth areas where the fuel is being extracted. Can’t find a job that pays what you think you’re worth? Willing to work your butt off? Think about heading to Montana or South Dakota or some other part of the country where the oil and natural gas industries are booming. If you’re educated and looking for the next big thing, this is a great time to get your foot in the door. But don’t quit college to do it, because there will be even bigger money if you’re degreed.

So, is all this uncertainty and upheaval the new normal? No. Things won’t always be this stressful. We’re very close to being back on a path to sustainable growth. There will be good times again. You’ll get a raise. Your house will go up in value. But there are some things we’re all going to have to remember in the future. Here’s my advice to workers, whether established in their careers or just starting out: Take your time and do things the right way. Educate yourself. Recognize that success comes to those willing to put out the effort. And understand that you can’t take more from the world than you’re willing to put in. We aren’t all going to be rich, but then, being rich isn’t the point. Living a good and satisfying life, taking care of your family, and acting honorably toward those around you — whatever the cost — are what really matter.

Have a wonderful year in 2013!




Chuck Pappalardo