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Chicago has positioned itself as a major destination for organizations and professionals seeking to take their success to the next level. The draw of the Windy City is evident - few metropolitan areas in the U.S. have the same combination of size, opportunity, culture and aesthetic appeal as Illinois' largest city. Chicago is commonly compared to New York City, except the streets are cleaner and the people are friendlier - what's not to like?
In part one of this two-part series, our own analysts in the Associates and Technology sectors offered their insights into why Chicago's job market is trending. For both verticals, the outlook is positive. At the Associates level, there is an array of opportunities across industries. Employers can find experienced professionals for more advanced positions but also attract new job seekers for temp-to-perm postings. The Tech scene is strong nationwide, and Chicago is no exception - talented individuals are looking for offers from Chicago IT departments.
As it turns out, things are looking up for the jewel of the Midwest in three other sectors, as well.
Legal industry gains ground after financial crisis
After the U.S. economy took a major hit back in the recession of 2007 to 2009, the legal sector was among the industries that suffered the most damage. Whenever transactions are taking place - people are spending money, companies and corporations are taking on staff and making investments, and so on, the legal industry does well. It is a direct result of a strong economy. So when the market fell into the doldrums, the legal sector fell with it.
"The legal sector has gained momentum and is moving in the right direction."
But now, there's reason for optimism. Ann Eisenreich, Legal Division Director at Beacon Hill's Chicago office, pointed out that although the field has not gotten back to pre-recession levels, it has gained momentum and is moving in the right direction.
"Legal is probably slower in growth than other markets, just because of the hit it took in 2007, 2008 and 2009," Eisenreich explained. "But transactional pieces are definitely picking up, corporate roles, commercial real estate roles ... when the economy is good, that's when legal transaction roles also rise."
For those seeking employment in the legal scene, there are growing opportunities - and not just in the major law firms. Much like the IT space, many organizations are building their own in-house legal teams to handle their own needs rather than hiring an independent firm. Eisenreich estimated for every job seeker there are between five and 10 jobs available. These openings run the gamut from litigations and paralegals to intellectual property experts.
Still, there are a range of law firms - large, small and mid-sized - looking for the best available talent. Firms like Baker & McKenzie and Kirkland & Ellis are both headquartered in Chicago and are among the top 10 biggest law firms in the world (at numbers one and 10, respectively), according to The American Lawyer. Furthermore, 17 of the nation's 250 largest law firms are based in the Second City. But law firms of all sizes attract candidates, depending on their focus and opportunities.
Research and development boosts pharmaceutical sector
Like the other industries mentioned thus far, Chicago pharma sector has also taken steps forward since the recession - though it's not the same industry now as it was then. However, Ryan Pirnat, the Managing Director for Beacon Hill Staffing's pharma division, believes the industry is doing about as well now as ever.
"It's different now than it was back in the '06, '07 timeframe, but that's the busiest I ever remember it and it's that busy right now," Pirnat offered. "For our space, research and development within pharmaceutical devices is very busy - which is good for us."
Part of the reason hiring has remained strong within the sector is that the large pharma companies will always hire - they aren't as affected by the market as other industries. But what really marks a healthy pharma scene is that the small companies are also hiring now - the startup scene is blossoming in Chicago.
"There are just so many startups in our space, which means money is being invested heavily," Pirnat continued. "It's a great time to be a candidate in the marketplace because they have a lot of different options available to them."
It isn't only pharma candidates who have benefited from the strong industry. Pharma companies are getting better at planning for what they need over the course of the entire research and development process - which routinely clock in at 20-year investments. Over that time, these organizations rely on both outsourced and in-house staff and resources. Typically, the largest of these companies exist on the outskirts of the city, but smaller startups have taken to the downtown area to utilize a different demographic.
Like any industry, the best fit for company and candidate will depend upon what traits each one is looking for. Fortunately, there is enough diversity on both sides to allow these partnerships to flourish.
Chicago finance as strong as ever
While the nation's third-largest city has a diverse array of industries, finance is one of its most recognizable. Chicago continues to attract finance talent, but not just because it has a booming finance district in The Loop. Michael Pickens, Finance Division Director for Beacon Hill Staffing, pointed out that Chicago is a "magnet for the Midwest." People are drawn to the culture, food and lifestyle.
"People are drawn by the culture, food and lifestyle."
"In the past, a kid who grows up in Michigan or Iowa and graduates from college is probably going to move to Chicago," Pickens explained. "What's shifting is that now we have finance grads from Texas saying, 'New York or Chicago?' So they can pay $3,000 for an apartment in New York, or choose Chicago and get a similar appeal for lower cost of living."
Having said that, the finance sector cannot be overlooked. The industry was able to weather the storm during the last recession from 2007 to 2009 better than other industries. Some positions, like those in financial analysis, were difficult to staff during that time - organizations were focusing less on the future and more on the present. But in the aftermath, employers are planning for growth and hiring with that in mind.
Technological advancements have also had some impact on the finance sector, but it hasn't forced jobs out. Rather, candidates have had to adjust their skill set to accommodate new developments, like enterprise resource planning. Similarly, employers are learning to accept young professionals with varied experience and backgrounds.
"Employers think they need XYZ, when really they only need XY," explained Joanna Foulk, Managing Finance Director for Beacon Hill Staffing. She also pointed out that candidates increasingly seek work-life balance and won't be wooed just with salary and benefits. Employers would be well served to remember that.
However, job seekers might also benefit from flexibility, according to Foulk. College graduates take their finance or accounting degree to Chicago and envision joining a huge organization or firm, but they might be better off examining small or mid-sized companies. Every business needs an accountant and these roles and organizations are necessary stepping stones on career path.
Foulk is optimistic that Chicago will remain a destination for professionals at all levels. Even during the recession, the Windy City fared better than most - it was never a depressing place to be, in her experience. Now, as the job market improves across industries, Chicago is attracting individuals and businesses looking to progress. As it stands, the city is one of the best job markets in the country and is poised to take additional steps forward.
But even beyond the jobs scene, the Second City offers a livable culture for those who make it their home. That's why so many are flocking to the shores of Lake Michigan - Chicago has the jobs to bring people there and the culture to keep them.
As the country's third-most populous city, it's no surprise the Chicago has a bounty of employment opportunities that can benefit both companies and job seekers. But even considering its great size, the Windy City scores impressively high marks in nearly every employment sector. Along with an ideal location, world-famous culture and a variety of attractions, Chicago is an excellent city for prospective employees to take the next step in their careers and for organizations to connect with the right talent.
While some sectors are performing better than others, one thing the experts all agree on is this: Chicago is trending up. It would be a stretch to say hiring activity has reached pre-Recession levels, but in some cases, the market is as active as its been in years. At worst, employment is slowly and steadily gaining momentum.
"Experts agree: Chicago is trending up."
That environment also means it's a good time to be a Chicago recruiting agency. Staffing professionals from five sectors weighed in on the recent trends within their areas and provided insight on the hiring market in Illinois' largest city. In part 1 of this 2-part series, our own industry experts in Associates and Technologies staffing commented on the strength of their respective sectors.
Opportunities abound at the entry level and beyond
The beauty of departmental support positions lies in the range of industries available. The jobs are no longer just administrative - they can take the form of anything from office service to marketing coordinator and more. In a city as large and diverse as Chicago, there are ample opportunities for positions like these.
As Liz Pirrie, Associates Division Director at Beacon Hill Staffing's Chicago office, pointed out, "Every industry is growing intensely."
In general, these positions exist for entry level candidates ranging up to around eight years of experience. But that doesn't mean only young professionals need apply - applicants from all age groups can find work in the associates sector, especially those changing industries or moving from a different location.
"We see a lot of relocation to Chicago, from everywhere," Pirrie explained, "for two main reasons: either they want to move to the big city from smaller towns, or because they hear the people in Chicago are just so nice."
Whatever the reason, those who do end up seeking employment in Chicago can rest assured something will come their way. Contrary to popular belief, in some cases it helps to be an experienced professional changing industries, while in other cases it's advantageous to be a recent college grad with a few internships under the belt. That's because many organizations seek temp-to-perm hires, for which young people just entering the workforce are ideally suited.
That aside, Pirrie's number one piece of advice for both employers and job-seekers was to keep an open mind. Applicants must consider a variety of jobs and titles, while it's on employers to prioritize potential over experience.
Chicago's tech scene heats up
Across the U.S., information technology is a hot commodity. Historically, the tech hub was centered in San Francisco, California and Austin, Texas. But now the industry has spread across the country, and Chicago is poised to stake its claim as a national leader for IT.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced that 16 of the city's most promising tech organizations committed to hiring a total of 1,000 new employees through the end of 2015, according to Built In Chicago.
"The commitment by these companies speaks to Chicago's growing strength as a hub for the high-paying, high-skilled jobs of the 21st century and will help to ensure that residents in every neighborhood can participate in our growing tech economy," Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. "These companies see the educated workforce we have today ... to build a great tech workforce for tomorrow."
"Applicants should find the right match with a business on a cultural and personal level."
Brian Pelligrini, Beacon Hill Staffing's Regional Vice President for the Midwest, sees promise as well.
"There's no doubt in my mind Chicago will be the number one market in three years," Pelligrini asserted. "We're less than 2 percent unemployment right here as far as IT goes."
Pelligrini acknowledged it's a candidate's market, but was optimistic that companies can do more to shift the balance. It comes down to branding - placing more emphasis on their culture and selling their organization better. In many cases, these companies are quite similar to one another. The ones that can create a degree of separation will have an inside track to the top talent.
With that said, Chicago has a wide range of organizations with their own IT departments. Some huge organizations like Kraft will certainly attract talented workers, but there is a dense mid-sized section with plenty of room for growth. Those conditions also provide opportunities for IT workers or all different experience levels, ranging from PC technicians all the way up to developers and project managers.
When it comes to IT talent, the Windy City is an excellent place to seek employment. But only a few years ago, the recession made it difficult for anyone to find work across the country. Only recently is the job market beginning to approach those pre-recession levels. For that reason, Pelligrini recommends applicants find the right match with a business on a cultural and personal level, and invest time and energy in that partnership. Should another recession emerge, those relationships are going to help employees keep their jobs.
For now, America's third-largest city is attracting candidates from recent college grads to 10-year professionals, and for good reason. The city has the resources, attractions and opportunities to be a model of the job market on a national scale.
Philadelphia is on the rise. The City of Brotherly Love is now home to the largest percentage of Millennials of any major city in the country, in addition to billions of dollars in construction projects throughout the greater Philadelphia region, Philly.com reported.
But there is an area that most Philadelphia residents agree would propel their city into competition with other metropolitan areas around the world: creating more jobs, which encompasses boosting the population and attracting successful businesses to the region. And what better time to bring jobs growth into the fray than in the lead-up to the mayoral elections on May 19?
While Millennials are the largest demographic in the city, getting the group to vote in local elections is a tall order. But by focusing on the ways local politics can improve their employment opportunities and make Philadelphia a more attractive place to live, that massive electoral group could mobilize enough to make a difference.
"Getting Millennials to vote in local elections is a tall order."
Millennials on the outside of the political spectrum
One of the obstacles in attracting young voters to the polls is the idea that politics don't work - that the results are too vague and undefinable, according to Philly.com. Millennials are more interested in volunteering and working for non-profits, rather than pushing an agenda through the political machine. But sometimes, that avenue is the best way to impact the changes young people want seen.
"We want to encourage Millennials to get involved so city government takes our concerns seriously," Matthew Fontana vice chairman of the Millennial-centered political action committee Philly Set Go, told Philly.com. Fontana cited education, job growth, and quality of life in the city as those concerns.
Part of the problem, according to Fontana, is that younger folks are unlikely to enter the political system because they find it daunting. But Philly Set Go wants to help Millennials navigate the system so they can work in local government and gain a foothold in those politics. With about 27 percent of the city's population and little direct representation in office, Millennials may stand to gain immensely by working in government.
"There is a ton of opportunity for the hard-working millennials to come into Fortune 1000 companies and make a name for themselves," offered Bryan Mulhern, Division Director of Beacon Hill Financial in Philadelphia. "It is just a matter of showing them the advantage of doing so and working with them to build their careers."
Millennials make up the largest age group in Philly.
Philly to benefit from federal tech campaign
Millennials should look no further than the recently-launched TechHire initiative as proof that political motions can make a tangible impact. The Philadelphia Tribune reported that President Obama's tech-focused jobs campaign could cause an influx of technology opportunities in Philadelphia.
TechHire is an initiative that helps communities train individuals for lucrative IT jobs. The idea is that employers expand their hiring while federal funds grant more training for potential employees. Philly is one of 20 cities, states or communities that signed on to fill over 120,000 tech job positions. A coalition of major companies, city officials, non-profit groups and educators partnered to create PhIT for the Future, a program aimed at expanding the talent pool for IT employers. For their part, employers agreed to offer more paid internships and mentorship opportunities.
These opportunities are the result of a politically-based initiative - one that could land more Millennials in well-paying careers. It might also convince the younger age group that political involvement can work in their favor.
Of all the booming cities across the U.S., perhaps none is a better representation of national growth than Charlotte, North Carolina. The national jobs report showed employers added 295,000 jobs in February, reported Forbes. Charlotte was one of the cities that spurred that expansion.
"Charlotte is, by differing measurements, the first, second or third fastest growing city in America," Bob Morgan, head of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, told WSOC. "We're playing on a stage nationally and internationally unlike we've ever seen before, and our growth rate reflects the fact that more people are aware of Charlotte, and more people and companies are choosing to make it home."
With a growing jobs scene in finance and banking, a number of colleges and universities, and two pro sports teams - the NBA's Hornets and the NFL's Panthers - Charlotte has much to offer both employers and job seekers.
"Charlotte has undergone encouraging employment growth recently."
Charlotte employment gains across the board
There has been much ado about the renewed focus on the city center as America's breadwinner. A City Observatory study claimed that jobs are leaving the suburbs and moving back into urban centers. However, some of that data is misleading - according to The Week, nearly half of the 41 city centers referenced in the study showed even or negative growth. In many of these cities, the periphery actually witnessed employment growth.
But in Charlotte, the urban center is humming right along.
From 2002 to 2011, Charlotte's employment opportunities increased by almost 1.5 percent annually. Charlotte suburbs did well too, growing by an average 1 percent per year during the same period.
All of this means that there may be no accurate way to trend employment movement across the U.S. at large - perhaps the jobs market is best understood on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Charlotte, the pattern is not difficult to understand: jobs are moving into the downtown area, and into the suburbs, too. It could be Charlotte's sprawling layout that encourages even growth in the urban center as well as the periphery.
"The growth within Charlotte has been extraordinary," observed Eric Felice, Division Director of Beacon Hill Financial in Charlotte. "Between our established client base dramatically increasing their demand for talent and with the amount of new companies moving into our city and staffing up, the job market here is exploding. It is a great time to be working in Charlotte."
Wage growth starts to outdo inflation
In the aftermath of the Recession, jobs growth has taken small but definite steps back toward normal levels. But wages have remained stubbornly low, growing only through inflation, according to Charlotte Business Journal. However, a recent study from Duke University and CFO Magazine found that 70 percent of employers across the U.S. reported wages grew at a faster rate than inflation.
The results are significant. Much of the recent jobs growth has been misleading - low-wage opportunities replaced the midlevel jobs lost during the Recession. A pickup in wages is a sign that the nation's economy is normalizing.
"The first few years of recovery were 'jobless' and, even as job growth picked up over the past year, wages remained stagnant," John Graham, finance professor at Duke, explained to Charlotte Business Journal. "Finally, we are starting to see wage growth for employees that outstrips inflation."
As employment and wages increase nationwide, Charlotte serves as microcosm of the improving market.
A big-city feel - several professional sports teams - a thriving finance scene - sounds like New York City. Actually, these refer to Denver, Colorado. Employment in this mid-western city is on the rise - and the finance industry is among the greatest drivers of that growth, according to recent figures. With a number of amenities worthy of NYC and other major metropolitan areas, not to mention access to first-class skiing and hiking, Denver is shaping up to be a sought-after destination for both job seekers and employers.
"Denver is shaping up to be a sought-after destination for both job seekers and employers."
Colorado employment higher than expected in 2014
The statistics for Colorado's third quarter in 2014 got an upward revision recently, according to the state's Department of Labor and Employment. The amendment is not insignificant - the employment levels for June, July and August will get nearly a 7 percent boost. On the year, the new employment rate for Colorado will have increased by 3.3 percent.
Not every employment sector experienced the same adjustment - some were higher and others were lower. Financial services was one industry that helped lead the way for the new gains. The sector gained 3.3 percent, 4.9 percent, and 4.2 percent in June, July and August 2014, respectively. The revised numbers for the fourth quarter of 2014 are not yet available, but continued upward alterations are not out of reach.
"Denver is the place to be for business," said Michael Bates, Division Director of Beacon Hill Technologies in Denver. "With employment up 11 percent since 2010 and up 3 percent in 2014 alone, businesses of all types are opening doors, relocating and recognizing the value of having a presence in Colorado. Denver is no longer a well-kept secret."
More growth is on the way
These past revisions are encouraging, but they don't mean much without an accompanying projection for continued expansion. Fortunately, the Skills for Jobs report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education offers exactly those metrics. The analysis includes forecasts for growth among specific jobs in the period from 2013 to 2023.
Financial industry jobs appear up and down the list. Financial manager positions should increase by 28.2 percent in that time period, while accountants, auditors, credit analysts and financial analysts are all marked with over 30 percent growth. These positions require no more than a bachelor's degree and little additional training.
"This report helps connect the dots between our institutions of higher education and future workforce needs to ensure an aligned system that benefits the entire state," Lt. Governor Joe Garcia told the Denver Business Journal.
Denver takes the spotlight
While the above facts are statewide numbers that apply to Denver as well as other areas, Colorado's capital city is performing as well as or better than many of the other metropolitan areas. The Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.'s ninth annual Industry Cluster Study indicated nine out of 12 major industry segments experienced growth in 2014's third quarter. The investment and insurance sub-clusters within the financial services cluster were among the areas that posted jobs growth.
For the Denver metropolitan area, a diverse and even jobs scene will help stave off some of the recent economic difficulties posed by the recent oil price decline.
"In the 1980s, we were Coors, carbon and the Cold War," Metro EDC CEO Tom Clark told the Post. "That was about it. And now we have eight dynamic clusters, and the employment gains in those clusters have been extraordinary. We are in much better shape."
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