“What sectors of the economy are hiring or experiencing strong growth right now?”

While the questions I feature in this recurring segment have traditionally come from my client base, I thought it would be appropriate to feature one this month that was recently asked to me by a Seattle Times reporter — since I’m sure it’s a question that’s on almost everyone’s mind!

Unfortunately, the straightforward answer to the above question is “very few'”.  The economic climate right now seems to be highly equal opportunity in nature and the credit crunch and low consumer confidence levels appear to be affecting virtually every business sector out there.  Across the board, companies are in the process of cutting costs in order to stay competitive, and as a result HR reps and hiring managers are in full “risk management” mode as they try to avoid taking on any additional overhead, if they can help it.  And while I could throw out the token answer everybody seems to give when asked to name an industry that’s faring well — health care — this industry isn’t without its challenges, as well, and it’s unlikely that every displaced worker out there is going to be able to retrain overnight and suddenly become marketable as a polysomnographer, pediatric nurse, dental hygienist, or phlebotomist!

While the bottom line isn’t very pretty, however, and there are aren’t many major industries one can point to that are immune to the economic forces at work right now, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t hiring still going on.  A recent search on Indeed.com, for example, reveals that there are still 65,000 job openings in Washington State waiting to be filled.  One also shouldn’t overlook the opportunities that constantly open up through attrition, even in a flat or declining economy, as people retire, resign, transfer, get promoted, or get terminated for poor performance or not having the right skill set for a certain assignment.  So while career counselors may not be privy to any secret industries out there that are going like gangbusters, they will incessantly remind people that it’s time to step up, in the face of adversity, and focus on competing more effectively and vigorously than ever before for the many jobs that are still out there.  There are many people out there who are job hunting no differently in this economy than they would in a booming economy, and this just doesn’t make sense.  The average person is going to need to put a lot more time into their search and get more outside their comfort zone, this time around, than they would during times when the labor supply/demand curve is more favorable.

Additionally, one should note that there are certain industry sectors that DO tend to thrive when the economy, in general, isn’t faring well.  Moving companies, liquidation firms, and used office furniture dealers come to mind.  Credit counseling, career counseling, and outplacement firms also meet this description, as do certain colleges and vocational training schools.  Even in my recent search for new office space, I discovered that the executive suite companies I was trying to rent from (at least some of them) are experiencing record low vacancies right now, based on the growing demand for temporary, flexible office space.  So much for any negotiating leverage I thought I’d have!   Highly motivated job hunters should therefore ask themselves “What types of companies tend to meet various needs that come up only during times of economic turbulence and downturn?”  If you ponder the matter for a bit, you might come up with some fresh ideas.  And while you might feel like a vulture for targeting these kinds of businesses, you shouldn’t — they’re ultimately all part of the “circle of business” (can you hear Elton John breaking into song?) and part of the natural order of  the economy.  And always have been.

So at the end of the day, as painful as these recessionary periods always are for individuals and businesses alike, there are still pockets of opportunity scattered out there for those who choose to look for them.  These types of times also tend to stimulate incredible amounts of creativity out in the market, as companies are given little choice but to invent new ways of doing business and many individuals, thrust out of the corporate womb, are forced to take risks, try new things, and launch new enterprises that they likely wouldn’t have initiated in more economically-abundant times.  No fewer than 16 out of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, in fact, were started during periods of recession or depression.  So while again, it would be absolutely wonderful to be able to point people to an economic escape hatch, or a new growth industry that is laden with potential for tons of hiring in the coming months, I’m afraid I haven’t caught a glimpse of one in my crystal ball, quite yet.  As stated above, however, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t still a lot of good jobs around for those willing to compete for them, and if we all fasten our seat belts and ride out this violent economic squall together, history suggests that there”s likely to be some pretty neat stuff coming on the other side of it…

P.S. Agreement?  Disagreement?  Ideas about some industries that might be much better off than others out there?  If so, please feel free to submit a comment to this post, since I’d love to hear your thoughts and share them with the rest of the Career Horizons community!