Job Feast Or Famine?

Unemployment rates are down, job creation is up. In the wake of an election year, job prospects always look good, but is this the calm before the storm? What career opportunities really lie ahead?

for 4% in 1997, earnings look strong for employees due to the continued employer support of variable compensation programs. Of the more than 1,600 employers surveyed by Hewitt Associates, 61% say they are steadily increasing the budgets for these programs. Employers budgeted an average 7.5% of payroll for these programs that generally include performance awards, business incentives and profit sharing. Hewitt Associates is a suburban Chicago human resources consulting company.

Surviving in this volatile job market requires far more than selling the employment experience and skills you already have. “Having one focus is not good enough anymore. Companies want people who can do several jobs so they won’t have to hire several people,” says Armentha Cruise, president of the Black Human Resources Network in Silver Spring, Maryland.

As downsizing continues, employers will increasingly demand that employees provide validation of their presence at the company through unique skills they may have or special contacts. Knowledge in areas like computer technology is crucial. “We’re finding that executives who lack technical skills or who are unable to adapt to changing workplace demands–no matter how many years of service–are losing their jobs,” says Charles Albrecht, president of Drake Beam Morin, a New York-based outplacement firm. Those in high-level management usually lack these skills and need people who have a handle on emerging technologies. “The irony is that corporations are actively hiring people with these skills at the same time they are letting people go,” adds Albrecht.

“People in jobs for 10 years should view themselves as being challenged to connect themselves to the mission of the organization,” says economist Julianne Malveaux. “Everybody has to have a Plan B. People who survive are those who have a sense that they aren’t defined by their work, but bring a variety of things to the job.” She adds that African Americans, now more than ever, must be creative when considering career paths.

For example, those who speak more than one language and are willing to travel, or are able to communicate beyond traditional grounds, like race and gender, will have many more doors open to them. Malveaux stressed the need for economic independence in the black community, because she feels that “We’ve been in the middle of an economic expansion, but it hasn’t been an across-the-board expansion.” Some of the other fields people previously shied away from, such as government, transportation and the delivery of educational services, currently present excellent opportunities for growth.

Other fields currently experiencing a boom are business, health and education, which account for 9.2 million of the 13.6 million jobs in the service field. The personnel supply industry, which includes temporary agencies, will add 1.3 million jobs from 1994 to 2005. Last year alone, they had gross revenues totaling $10.9 billion.

Although temporary work tends to offer low job stability, low wages and poor benefits, it has become an option for people who need to supplement their incomes. Other reasons people choose to temp include the need for diversity and

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