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When it comes to innovation and technology, the greater Boston area has certainly carved out its share of the market. But neighboring Cambridge, which often gets paired with Boston, may have the advantage. Home to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology - along with other universities - Cambridge also boasts an ever-growing stable of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. If recent news is any indication, there is no sign the city will relinquish its position as an industry leader anytime soon.
Cambridge remains king in the biotech sphere
There is perhaps no group of people better suited to assessing the health of the biotech industry in Cambridge than industry executives in the state of Massachusetts. To that point, biotech and pharmaceutical executives and insiders gathered at RealShare Boston 2015 conference at the Omni Parker House in late July. By and large, they were impressed with the industry's growth and excited for its future, reported the Worcester Telegram.
"What is amazing to me is that there is still space left in Cambridge for other companies," Phil Plottel, ARIAD Pharmaceutical's senior director of global real estate and facilities, told the Telegram. "Yes, it's been difficult to find space, but the big bio-pharma coming has made it a much bigger pod. I think that is the big impact and I think what you're going to start seeing in the rest of the state is the impact it has on the overall pod."
Such strength is also beneficial for other industries, noted William Harris, regional practice leader for science and technology at Perkins and Will. His clients are pleased with the "network of attorneys, of accountants, of bankers, of that kind of consultant and support team that understands the market." Similarly, the high biotech activity aids surrounding towns like Waltham and Marlborough. That makes the entire area a destination for employers and industry professionals alike. Indeed, 15 of the top 20 bio-pharmaceutical companies worldwide have a physical presence in the Bay State.
"We're seeing firsthand the positive impact this growth is having on the job market right now," says Liz Davies, who directs the Pharma division at Beacon Hill Staffing Group. "While Kendall Square remains the epicenter for bio-pharma, Metro West is experiencing an impressive expansion as well. It is certainly an exciting time for career growth in Massachusetts."
"Life sciences have been a presence in Cambridge for decades."
Kendall Square at the epicenter of life sciences
The MIT campus is located in the Kendall Square area in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Massachusetts General Hospital, and is surrounded by biotech and pharma companies. Life sciences have been a presence in the city for decades and Kendall Square is the center of it all. But the area only recently underwent a different type of revitalization.
In the 1990's and 2000's, more and more biotech firms started calling Cambridge and Kendall Square home, reported Technology Review. But beyond the surrounding area, there was little else to draw professionals to the center of the bio-pharmaceutical expansion. However, individuals like former MIT president Susan Hockfield envisioned a livelier Kendall Square, complete with amenities that would not only keep employees in the area after they got out of work at the pharmaceutical company. With a thriving downtown and an influx of housing, Kendall could live up to its potential.
"I see Kendall Square as being the heartbeat for innovation and technology in the state," Katie Stebbins, Massachusetts's assistant secretary of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship, told Technology Review. "The incubator effect Kendall Square is having on the suburbs and cities around it is a positive for the region."
Kendall Square and the city at large are great examples of how culture can influence commerce and vice versa. The biotech firms alone are enough to attract businesses and professionals, but the amenities, location and quality of life are what keep them there. By providing plenty of opportunity for residents, the area will also encourage innovation and collaboration better than regions that are simply there to support an industry and nothing else.
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The human resource department plays a much larger role than most people realize, as it's an industry that folds into all others. Every organization needs an HR department to function optimally, just as it does a legal team - the difference being, most companies don't rely on an external firm to accomplish their HR needs.
As the U.S. economy goes, so too goes the HR sector. In the years following the Recession, the American economy has slowly but steadily progressed, opening up opportunities for employment across sectors, including HR. Now, hiring conditions are as good as they've been in recent years, which bodes well for candidates looking for opportunities in strong HR departments. While it's a candidates' market, employers can still capitalize on the talent that is available by taking the right steps.
To gain a better perspective on this trend, Beacon Hill Staffing's HR Division Director, Kate Harris, weighed in.
"As the U.S. economy goes, so too goes the HR sector."
The many facets of the HR team
The HR umbrella is a broad one - and each person within the department has more than one responsibility. When candidates look into a new position, the titles can vary. A specific position at one company may be something entirely different at another. However, one thing has remained constant: The need for organizations to bring in the best talent.
"I would say talent acquisition across the board [is what employers are looking for] - everyone's looking for good recruiters, people who have recruiting strategy and recruiting branding experience to help companies land great talent," Harris explained. "The other thing we see a lot of are HR business partner roles, where you're serving as an internal consultant for a specific business unit or group of business units and helping them leverage their talent."
This breadth of positions means there are more companies looking for talent than there are talented HR professionals available. Many candidates have received multiple offers and have their pick of where they'd like to go. Considering that new industries can emerge in a short time - like tech in Boston and San Francisco - positions in HR open faster than companies can fill them.
"It doesn't seem to be slowing any time soon," Harris said, regarding the growing number of HR job openings. "In Boston, given the volume of startup tech-driven and pharmaceutical-driven companies taking off right now, I anticipate the market will continue to be really hot."
It's all about the right fit
Though HR spans all sectors of the job market, candidates don't necessarily seek employment based on the industry as much they just want the right opportunity. If a position opens up that checks all the right boxes - regardless of the industry - Harris recommends her clients go for it. In addition, she tells them to not only consider the benefits package and pay, but where they could envision themselves staying for several years, where they might be able to grow and where they think they would be happy. If a company isn't the right fit, she explained, those benefits start to lose their luster.
"Ask good questions," Harris suggests, "so they have a really good understanding of what the expectations are from the client, where the manager sees their career going, and really making sure they have all the information."
On the other side, employers who strike out on their ideal candidate should keep an open mind and remain flexible. When there are more jobs than there is talent, it's important for organizations to have the ability to accept someone who doesn't necessarily fit their exact criteria. There are talented candidates available with, perhaps, a bit less experience than would be ideal - but that doesn't mean they won't work out. Again, on the employer side, fit is the ultimate goal. If a company can't find the HR professional it needs, it might be better off finding one who is almost there and developing that person as necessary.
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.
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