The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employers added 215,000 jobs in March — closing out a strong first quarter of job creation for the U.S. economy. According to the latest jobs report, employers have added 209,000 new jobs per month, on average, since the start of 2016.
Several industries saw above-average hiring activity in March, including healthcare, which added 37,000 jobs. According to the BLS, these latest additions are in line with the average monthly gains seen in the industry over the past 12 months; during that period, employment in healthcare has increased by 503,000 jobs.
The BLS also adjusted the number of jobs added in January and February, noting that combined job gains were 1,000 less than previously reported.
Unemployment remains low
The unemployment rate for March was 5.0 percent, edging up slightly from the 4.9 percent rate reported in the first two months of 2016. The unemployment rate for workers who are 25 or older and have a college degree — the professionals most highly sought by employers — increased to 2.6 percent in March after holding at 2.5 percent for seven consecutive months.
Employers have hiring needs, but they are selective
Those who read my posts regularly know that I also closely track the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the BLS. The most recent JOLTS report showed that job openings were at 5.5 million in January, up 260,000 from December. According to the BLS, openings “remain at historically high levels.” Yet hiring edged down to 5 million, a drop of 372,000 month over month.
What the jobs report and JOLTS data are telling us is that companies still have a strong need for skilled individuals to help operations run and business expand. Hiring remains robust.
But employers are having a hard time finding the right people to bring on board. One big reason is the unemployment rate: Most professionals with in-demand skills already have jobs, and competition is fierce for those relatively few who are looking for work.
I believe another reason employers are challenged is that many are no longer satisfied to hire workers who are good at doing just one thing. More and more companies are looking for professionals who have specialized skills in more than one area to fill so-called hybrid jobs.
Let me explain by way of an example …
The merging of finance and technology
I recently participated in a conference for internal audit professionals, and one of the hottest areas of discussion among executives I spoke to was somewhat surprising: IT. Several of my fellow attendees mentioned the need within their organizations for finance professionals who have strong backgrounds in technology. Data analytics kept coming up again and again.
Companies need accounting and finance staff who can take large data sets, or data sets that were not previously accessible, and pull out meaningful insights to inform strategic guidance. The professionals who do this work — financial analysts and business analysts — have true hybrid jobs.
And these hybrid professionals are very hard to find. In fact, 90 percent of finance leaders report difficulties hiring staff with business analytics experience, according to a recent study we developed with the Institute of Management Accountants. Financial executives said the biggest skills gaps among their teams include the following:
- Identifying key data trends
- Data mining and extraction
- Technological acumen
- Statistical modeling and data analysis
Technology driving the demand for hybrid jobs
More than any other force, changes in technology, from the increasing reliance by companies on big data to the emergence of the Internet of Things, are helping to fuel the demand for hybrid jobs. As business and technology become increasingly intertwined, there will be a need for professionals in almost any type of job to apply technology in ways that create new value and insights for the business.
Consider the creative technologist. As Joseph Corr explains in a post on the TCG Blog, a creative technologist is “a developer who understands the creative process.” The person who fills this hybrid role can bring both creative and technical skills to bear on a project. The creative technologist is able suggest new ideas for marketing or advertising campaigns, develop and test these ideas, and then use analytics to refine them.
Positioning yourself for hybrid jobs
How can you position yourself for a hybrid role? My advice: Learn all you can.
If you’re still in school, take courses outside of your focus area. I’ve long advocated that college students enroll in philosophy or logic seminars to learn the critical thinking skills that employers place high value on today.
Also look to take courses in statistics or analytics, even if you are a liberal arts major. Knowing how to read, mine and manipulate data will serve you well, no matter what career path you choose.
Programming classes can be beneficial, too. Many employers seek business professionals who know how to code. With a foundational understanding of popular programming languages, you can create data visualizations and perform in-depth analysis. Knowledge of design and web development tools like HTML 5 is also highly valued by many employers.
If your career is already well under way, don’t worry. As hybrid jobs emerge, businesses often turn to current employees first to fill these positions. A strong desire to learn and a willingness to embrace change are two traits that can serve you well when looking to expand your skill set beyond your traditional area.
The Internet has also made it easy to learn hybrid job skills. Online learning platform Udacity offers “nanodegrees” in fields such as web and mobile development and data analytics. These types of resources can help you build your skill set relatively easily and without having to take a major career detour.
Another way to build skills for hybrid jobs, especially if you are an experienced professional with in-demand expertise, is through project and consulting work. Exposure to new projects at different companies can help you round out your abilities. Many project assignments — such as business systems implementation, conversion and integration initiatives — require that individuals use, and build on, their specialized business, accounting and technology skills.
Even if your current position doesn’t call for hybrid job skills, chances are good that it will in the future. Embracing the idea now that you should strive to become a multifaceted specialist, and committing to continually expanding your skill set, can help you succeed in the world of hybrid jobs.