RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Employers looking to fill jobs are having trouble finding the talent they need – and that means workers can pick and choose.

Yes, much has changed about the labor force since early-2020. For this week’s Jobs Report, WRAL TechWire wanted to get a sense of the macro-impacts the pandemic has brought on the U.S. job landscape.

We spoke with Andrew Hunter, co-founder of the job search engine Adzuna, about some of the trends he’s seeing on his platform and how the labor market has shifted over the course of the pandemic. The site currently lists over 4 million jobs across the U.S., including 32,229 jobs in Wake County, 16,633 in Raleigh and nearly 11,000 in Durham County, as of Sunday afternoon.

Hunter shared his perspective on the overall trends shaping the national labor market, recent developments, which sectors and skills are experiencing the highest demand, how employers are competing for talent, and how job seekers and employers can stay ahead of emerging trends moving forward.

Jobs Report: LinkedIn lists more than 57,000 open positions across Triangle

Read more in our exclusive Q&A.. (Comments were slightly edited for clarity and brevity.)

  • What changes have you noticed in the labor market over the last 14 months or so?

This is a very different labor market than 14 months ago. We’re seeing a major flip in power. During the height of the pandemic, many people were concerned about job security and some industries shut down or slowed their operations entirely, resulting in layoffs and furloughs. Now, job seekers are in the driver’s seat once again and companies are in a battle for talent with a significant talent shortage. As a result, companies are pulling out all of the stops in order to attract candidates, and candidates have the power to be more selective in where they apply and interview.

But despite the return of job opportunities, the number of people leaving the workforce and taking a career break is higher than normal. The OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] suggests [in its 2021 Employment Outlook report] U.S. employment could be sitting below pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2023. After months of uncertainty, COVID pressures and low job security, burnout is affecting many sectors—not just front line workers, but also white collar workers who have been juggling less than ideal working conditions.

We’re seeing high quits fueled by workers looking to change careers or simply needing a break. Many have built up savings over the last year and are in no immediate rush to return to work. As a result, we have a jobs market with high vacancy numbers but a smaller than usual pool of job seekers—and it could take a while to restore the balance.

  • What was the catalyst for the trends you’re seeing now? 

These trends are a culmination of the learnings employees have taken from the past year, whether it was a year of remote work or a year of in-person employment for essential workers. Health and wellness have become top of mind for many individuals, inspiring a greater focus on work/life balance. Many have been forced to recognize that life is short and are prioritizing job satisfaction, balance and family over a job that doesn’t bring them joy.

  • How has the U.S. job landscape changed when it comes to in-demand sectors or skills? 

The distribution of opportunities has been shaken up since the start of the pandemic. Early on, we saw significant hiring within the logistics and warehousing industry—likely fueled by growing e-commerce and an increase in online deliveries. In fact, Adzuna’s data reveals jobs in this sector are sitting at 206% above pre-pandemic levels, with more than 925,000 openings currently unfilled.

The pandemic also caused ultra-low interest rates, driving a surge in the real estate industry as well as labor and trade professionals indirectly through home improvements. For 11 weeks in a row, we’ve seen over 100,000 openings for trade and construction jobs.

Meanwhile, sectors like healthcare and nursing and social work have seen consistently high job openings, with a combination of high turnover, high demand and a shortage of skilled workers creating a continuous need for new talent. Finally, the pandemic forced many companies to switch to remote working, speeding up the adoption of tech in many sectors. Digital and software skills are more in demand than ever.

While these may be momentary shifts, they speak to the overall demand of jobs we will be seeing in the future as well. Some of the most in-demand roles now and in the next decade will be registered nurses, software developers, delivery drivers, social care workers and skilled trades.

  • What does this mean for employers?

We’ve seen the dismantling of buzzy office perks like free food or laundry services, replaced by a greater focus on health and wellbeing. Employers are putting more effort into worker retention, building comprehensive benefits packages. These will be expected by candidates and will forever change how employers build their compensation packages.

From an employer perspective, digital skills are in particular demand. The combination of shifting skill needs and high demand for candidates has propelled another positive change: companies are paying more attention to skills over formal education.

  • Are there any new trends or themes you’ve observed over the last month in particular?

Restaurant job opportunities were initially curtailed by pandemic restrictions, but are now recovering and businesses are struggling to fill these roles. We’ve seen the restaurant industry respond with creative ways to compete for talent, including pay raises, childcare and signing bonuses, mimicking the offerings of big tech—a trend that has since spread across many industries struggling to hire.

McDonald’s is the latest big brand to come out with a caregiver offering, introducing emergency childcare as a way of tempting parents back to work. [According to U.S. Census data,] about 1 in 4 U.S. children, or 22 million, live in single parent households, meaning adding caring support has the potential to open up the labor market in a major way.

  • What can job seekers and employers do to stay ahead of these trends?

Employers who find a way to offer job seekers a chance to upskill and adapt to the future of the jobs market will stand out from the crowd. Workers are more aware than ever of how quickly the labor market can change, and how quickly they may need to adapt. They’re looking for employers who can support them with those transitions. Flexibility is also key, allowing workers to balance their career with other responsibilities.

For job seekers, it’s worth looking at demand industries as a starting point and seeing if they could fit around wider career ambitions. Roles like software developers or registered nurses require specific skills and qualifications, but other in-demand roles such as delivery drivers for warehouse workers are more accessible—they could offer good options for flexible work while retraining into other sectors. The general worker shortage also means now is an important time to know your value and you should be sure to negotiate pay when starting a new job.

Jobs fairs in coming weeks look to match Triangle workers, companies