By Quentin Fottrell
Human Resources is a booming industry. Oddly, that doesn’t seem to be translating into hiring.
The job picture is bleak, even though the number jobless claims fell 1,000 last week to 388,000, Federal data released Thursday shows. But hiring in HR is rising fast – in fact, the government projects Human Resources positions will far outpace the rest of the labor market over the past decade. The number of HR specialists is expected to rise 21% by 2020 and 13% for HR managers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. And HR job postings rose 14.5% to 288,258 in the 12 months ending March 2012, according to job-seeking website SimplyHired.com.
So if there’s such demand in HR, why aren’t more people getting jobs? Experts say there were heavy cuts in recruitment jobs during the recession and they’re finally playing catch-up. “These jobs are only now beginning to get back to normal levels as the economy improves,” says Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities.
But a surge in HR staff doesn’t necessarily mean companies are back hiring in other departments, analysts say. HR specialists are only needed to recruit new staff during economic booms — not during a struggling jobs market such as this, says Philip Noftsinger, president of CBIZ Payroll in Roanoke, Va. “In today’s labor market the supply outweighs the demand, so attracting quality candidates is not as difficult and requires less resources,” he says. Instead, HR directors are needed to manage their company’s increasingly complex healthcare, tax and benefit systems, Noftsinger says. Indeed, HR managers ranked third in the “Best Jobs of 2012” list released by CareerCast.com earlier this month — only behind software engineers and actuaries. “Companies need a lot of back-office help,” says Vishnu Lekraj, equity analyst with Morningstar. It’s a sign that companies at least hope they will need more staff, he says.
To be sure, experts say that the government’s own job growth projections are historically prone to exaggeration. A case in point: the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted jobs growth of 152 million between 2000 and 2010 with “personnel services” making the biggest gains, says Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn consultants in Roseland, N.J. However, employment only grew by about 130 million jobs during that time primarily due to the impact of the 2008 recession. “Employment projections tend to be optimistic extrapolations rather than realistic expectations,” O’Keefe says. (Roger J. Moncarz, spokesman for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, says the organization is in the process of evaluating some past projections.) The Bureau’s latest forecast for HR jobs may also be subject to downward revision, especially in light of recent disappointing jobs data, says David Blanchflower, Bruce V. Rauner professor of economics in the Dept. of Economics at Dartmouth College. “Forecasts are pretty speculative these days,” he says.