“Wait till next year!”
That's not just the perennial cry of Chicago Cubs fans. A leading outplacement consultancy has also taken it up when it comes to the labor market in 2016.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas says while 2015 job cuts are expected to hit a six-year high, the pace of downsizing should slow in the year ahead as hiring and wages continue to make gains.
Although year-end tabulations are still a few weeks away, U.S.-based employers announced 574,888 planned job cuts through November – 19% more than the 2014 year-end total of 483,171. At the current pace, this year is on track to be the biggest job cut year since 2009, when 1,272,030 jobs were eliminated.
The oil patch took the heaviest hits
Looking for somewhere to point the finger? Try the dramatic decline in oil prices, which prompted companies involved in exploration and extraction to make significant adjustments to workforce levels.
All told, falling oil prices were blamed for 102,738 job cuts through November, or nearly one in every five job cuts announced in 2015.
Heavy downsizing was also seen in the public sector, where military cutbacks claimed 57,000 troops and civilian personnel.
“Cuts related to oil prices were heaviest in the first half of year, dropping by more than 50% in the second half,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “With oil prices expected to remain low for the foreseeable future,” he added, “we could continue to see the industry workforce shrink in 2016, though probably not at the rate we saw in the first part of 2015.”
Challenger says a decline in oil cuts is expected to result in an overall slowdown in downsizing activity in 2016. “Job cuts may not reach the previous post-recession low, achieved in 2014, when year-end cuts fell to 483,171,” he pointed out, noting that “even if job cuts don’t fall to post-recession lows, increased hiring and wages are expected to offset the losses.”
A slowdown in job growth
The nation’s non-farm payrolls grew by an average of 210,000 jobs per month through November, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average in 2014 was 260,000 new jobs per month.
Part of the slowdown, Challenger said, “may have been related to a weakened energy sector, which was one of the strong growth areas in 2013 and 2014. However, another contributor to the slower job gains this year may have been a shrinking supply of available talent.”
A churning labor force
“There is a lot of churn in the labor force right now,” said Challenger. “We have retirees leaving the workforce; we will continue to see layoffs, even in a strong economy; and, each month upwards of 2.7 million Americans quit their jobs. So, when casual observers look at that net job gain of around 200,000 new workers each month, they can easily miss all of this other activity that suggests a very frenetic employment picture where there are still a lot of separations alongside a lot of hiring,” he added.
Challenger expects this heavy churn to continue in 2016, with around 10,000 baby boomers hitting retirement age each day. But he says, that doesn’t mean they are going to leave the labor force. “Recent improvements in the stock market might mean that more can leave the workforce if they want, but many will continue to work out of desire,”he said. “However, many will change jobs, others will cut back hours, and some may leave the workforce for a while and come back. In any case, baby boomers alone will be a significant contributor to labor force churn.”
Challenger says this churn, whether it’s related Baby Boomers or companies shifting strategies, creates opportunities, but that doesn't mean finding a job will be easy in 2016. Employers are still being selective and the hiring process is taking longer, as a result,” he said. “Job seekers should not expect to send out a bunch of resumes and job offers will simply come pouring in.
They will still be required to do the hard leg work. Cold calling, networking, meeting with people on a daily basis, and all of the other activities necessary to uncover the hidden job market and find the best opportunities.