Job losses appear to be slowing, but a bigger question looms: when will the employment rolls begin growing again?

While the unemployment rate dipped to 9.4 percent in July, new claims for unemployment benefits jumped unexpectedly in the last week. At the same time, July's retail sales were lower than expected.

But those indicators look backward, telling us what has happened in the economy recently. What about what's going to happen in the future?

The Association for Operations Management and the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington have released a report that, on its surface at least, provides a measure of hope for those looking for a job.

Data reported in the July 2009 Operations Management Employment Outlook survey indicate that 47 percent of respondents with hiring responsibility anticipate hiring staff in one or more of the following operational areas; execution and control of operations, purchasing/customer relationship management (CRM), quality, resource planning and supply chain management. Quality and resource planning are expected to see the greatest rate of growth, according to the report.

Conversely, 36 percent of survey respondents with hiring responsibility anticipate layoffs during the same period of time, with 22 percent of those planning to layoff in one of the following operational areas: execution and control of operations, purchasing/CRM, quality, resource planning and supply chain management.

"The most recent data from the Operations Management Employment Outlook indicate that hiring professionals generally expect operations management jobs will be added at a higher rate than they are being lost over the next 12 months," said APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi. "This is a promising sign of economic stabilization because operations management job growth sheds light on a variety of industries, including manufacturing."

"Hiring and employment are critical elements of economic forecasting and the data in this report indicate a slight upturn in the economy and improved unemployment numbers over the coming year," said Drew Rosen, professor of operations management at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a member of the research team.

The initial data collection took place in March 2009, with a second round of data collection in July 2009. A random sample from a population of 30,000-plus operations management professionals was surveyed to identify prevailing compensation levels and anticipated hiring trends for operations management professionals over the next year.