After the Great Resignation: The Great Hiring?

Upheaval in the labor market continues, changing the way people view the jobs they have and the careers they want. University of Maryland Global Campus experts looked ahead to the job market in 2022, including where opportunities will be found, how salary and benefits are being reshaped, and the toolkit job seekers will need.  

The U.S. Department of Labor opened 2022 by releasing its latest job market data, which showed that 4.5 million people changed or left jobs in the month of November. The quitting rates continue to outpace hiring. UMGC Associate Professor of Economics Matthew Salomon said the so-called Great Resignation is the sign of a strong economy.

“If people are scared about jobs they don’t resign,” he said. “Even though inflation is high right now we’ve recovered ahead of what was anticipated with the pandemic.” 

Salomon noted that a COVID-19 halt in visas for foreign workers and a crackdown on undocumented workers has also contributed to the labor force shortage. “And of course, there are the mothers and fathers who left the workforce because child care was not available and their children had to go to school remotely,” he said. “That is an unfortunate loss of talent.”

What do job seekers want?

“That’s a loaded question with multiple layers,” said Darren Cox, UMGC senior director of employer relations and student affairs.  “To a large degree, it’s about quality of life. During the pandemic, people have had more time for retrospection.” 

Workers are shifting careers—and career fields—in a quest for greater opportunities, higher salaries and work conditions that better dovetail with their lives. Cox said some UMGC students and alumni have told him that flexible work hours are important. People want to escape long work commutes. Entrepreneurship is also experiencing an uptick.

As they seek out safer working conditions and wages that allow them and their families to progress, Cox said UMGC students seem especially interested in jobs that are remote. “Our students are accustomed to being virtual, so they’re able to adapt to that type of environment,” he said.

A guarantee of job security has also gained new traction. The onset of COVID-19 pandemic left many people unsure whether they would have a job from one day to the next.

Francine Blume, assistant vice president of career development at UMGC, said the trends may reflect the fact that for some workers “their values simply changed.”

“After getting a taste of a healthier work-life balance, many workers are moving on to jobs that offer greater flexibility so they can spend more time with their families or enjoying other personal pursuits,” Blume explained.

What jobs are in demand?

IT and cybersecurity jobs remain hot. These are career fields with opportunities to advance. Even more, employees can often work remotely, making these safe positions during the pandemic, and the hours may be flexible. But job applicants should be aware that the skill sets sought by tech employers are changing. 

“From an employer’s perspective, they’re looking for people skilled in data aggregation and data analysis. They need people who understand cloud infrastructure,” said Cox. “This is a huge shift from just knowing a basic language like JAVA.”

Tech job opportunities are especially rich for professionals in automation, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Shuruq Alfawair, UMGC job development and placement specialist, said tech leaders maintain that they are not trying to take away human jobs but, rather, to make people more productive.

“How will that disrupt how we hire? We don’t know yet,” Alfawair asked. “Some people may feel like it’s an Armageddon, but it is not. It’s just the reality of the future of technology.”

There are extraordinary job opportunities this year for nurses, health care administrators, technicians and other medical professionals. Increased numbers of workers are needed to manage the COVID-19 crisis, at the same time that burnout and illness at the front line have brought waves of resignations—in a field that faced worker shortages and high turnover even before the pandemic.

The health care labor deficit has been exacerbated by the growing need for care for the large Baby Boomer population and ongoing worker shortfalls in rural areas. At the same time, the ongoing push toward robotics has shaken health care, requiring workers to have more technology finesse.

Within the business arena, Cox said, project managers are in demand. Business analytics, too, remains a strong field for job applicants in 2022.

Increasing numbers of CEOs say they want employees who thrive as part of a team. Salomon said job applicants with military backgrounds are especially well-suited for that workplace culture. Companies across the country are also working more conscientiously to diversify their workforces.

The mass exodus from the service industry, including the hospitality sector, has left a surfeit of jobs there. Low wages and a fear of COVID-19 spurred many of those departures. 

“There was also the great rudeness of people,” Salomon noted, a disturbing trend that may have roots in the stressfulness surrounding the pandemic. “And there are workers who have decided to go back to school.”  

What about job training?

Degrees continue to open doors, and certifications in particular skill areas add oomph.  Employer-offered training and education are also on the rise, but they are starting to look different.

“Employers are offering apprenticeship programs that are done remotely. These are surfacing because employers are finding skill gaps,” Cox said. “Prior to the pandemic, most of these were in person because the thought was that someone early in their careers needed hands-on learning. The pandemic has taught employers that they can do this training remotely.”

TEKsystems, a UMGC employer, is one of many companies moving toward training boot camps. TEKsystems has reshaped itself as an all-remote IT staffing firm and its employee training is also now virtual. 

“They’re offering interesting training opportunities. They have a boot camp that pays the participants a stipend. It is full time and remote,” Cox said. “Because it is full-time, participants can’t balance a full-time job with the boot camp, but it is a great training opportunity.”

For its part, UMGC participates in SkillBridge , which collaborates with several organizations—including government agencies—to provide skilled training, internships and other workforce experience to individuals transitioning from the military. 

Where’s the money?

Some workers are shifting careers to boost their salaries, but Cox said job candidates might want to think about compensation beyond the dollar signs, particularly if training programs are part of the job offer.

“Sometimes our students aren’t willing to take a pay cut for an apprenticeship program, for example. They are older, often with families, and for someone who has been in the workforce for 15 years, the idea of taking an apprenticeship that means transitioning to a salary that is less than they currently make is not appealing,” Cox said. “But they need to look at this long term.”

He said jobseekers who sign on to lower-salary cybersecurity apprenticeships, for example, could earn back lost income within a couple of years—and their future ability to earn would be much greater.

“There are people who will get entry-level jobs in the $60,000 a year range,” Cox said, “but with expertise in AI or automation, they’ll be able to command a salary at or well over $100,000.”

Better pay is also one of the drivers of the growing trend toward entrepreneurship.  

“If you’re underpaid or underemployed, then you tend to look at other avenues for income. Also, many people want to work for themselves,” Cox explained. “And there is the idea of legacy building. The older you get, the more purpose you want. The average age of our students is 32. As someone gets into their 30 s and 40s, they start to think more intentionally about their career and where they see themselves long term. 

“They’re ready to take what they’ve learned from their workplace and make it their own.”

And job benefits?

The desperation to fill job vacancies in some career areas has sparked new benefits, including big hiring bonuses—even for hourly workers—as well as more flexible work schedules, wage increases and educational or professional training benefits.

“Money is very attractive, but time has become a draw. Maybe the work hours are not so exhausting. Maybe the schedules are better,” said Blume. “Or maybe the work allows people to make decisions on their own without micromanagement.”  

Education remains a coveted benefit in 2022, with employers looking at that perk in new ways. Amazon, which had been helping hourly employees at its fulfillment centers obtain associate degrees while still working, has now upped the ante. It is paying for bachelor’s degrees. UMGC has been education partner with Amazon since 2019.

“Even more interesting is that Amazon’s previous position had been “we’ll pay for you to get an associate degree while you work for us because, after a while, we want you to leave us for a better job,” Blume said. “Now they’ve changed the model to ‘we are a great place to work and we’ll pay for your education—even a bachelor’s degree—so you stay with us.’”  

There are also signs that workers will move to or remain at lower-salary companies if the benefits include childcare, paid leave and remote or hybrid work.

Salomon said federal and local governments need policies that makes the workplace more attractive. He cited childcare as an increasingly important benefit, especially in attracting and retaining female workers. Also urgently needed, he said, is immigration policy designed to fill job gaps and education reform that dovetails with labor market needs. 

Building a Job Search Toolkit for 2022  

UMGC job development and placement specialist Alfawair keeps an eye on what’s ahead. What she’s seeing for 2022 and beyond is “dynamic, fast-changing, and exciting.” 

On the employer side, companies are thinking about ways to disrupt hiring practices so they can better evaluate job candidates. In an unusual move, a few employers in fall 2021 bypassed resumes in favor of social media platforms, including TikTok.

“These were warehouse-worker companies or restaurants seeking line cooks, including Chipotle,” Alfawair said. “They were looking to see if TikTok would be a feasible tool for hiring individuals into the food industry as marketers or product managers or even chefs.  

“One idea was for a chef to go on TikTok to ‘show us your best meal,’” she explained.

She said the verdict is still out on alternative resumes, but younger job-seekers—particularly the Gen Z demographic—seem especially responsive to these unusual approaches. Instagram stories and chat features on other social media platforms are joining videos as ways job candidates can promote themselves. 

“Whether traditional resumes remain depends on the industry,” Alfawair said. “[Tesla and SpaceX CEO] Elon Musk wants to do away with resumes completely and look at alternative ways to hire.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know how this is going to look down the line, but I do think the hiring process can be made easier for the employer and the employee,” Alfawair said.

Another trend is that gaps in employment—once a red flag for employers—are losing their stigma. Employers are no longer skipping over applicants whose resumes show periods of unemployment, a pattern that had disproportionately affected the careers of women, many of whom leave the workforce to raise families.  

Even though jobs abound, Alfawair said job applicants will need to be agile about their career strategies in a labor market that is shifting at lightning speed. For example, she said many people do not use LinkedIn as effectively as they could to make new contacts in their fields and stay aware of trends.

“People will have to be ahead of the game,” she said. “Because UMGC already had career services online, we didn’t have to make a big transition on that front when the pandemic hit, but now we have to make sure we stay ahead.

“I’ve told students that they should use all the UMGC career tools, as well as talk one-on-one with an adviser. People need to keep up their resumes and their interviewing skills, even if they aren’t actively looking for new jobs,” Alfawair added.

In the past, she said, people had time to get used to new changes in a field. But now, “by the time you figure out something, a new tool has already appeared. For some people, it feels like a constant catch-up game,” she said.

Blume said the strong job market has not changed all the rules. She said job applicants still have to be thoughtful about how they ask questions about job benefits or working conditions.  

“I still advise people not to be difficult in an interview. They should get the job and then negotiate on smaller points,” Blume said. “It’s not all about what the employer can do for them. Job candidates still need to have good interview skills, a good resume and to think about what value they offer the company.”  

All UMGC students, alumni and staff have access to CareerQuest, a suite of tools and resources to help improve their resumes, upgrade their LinkedIn profiles, practice interview skills, research companies and find contacts in their industries. CareerQuest, available around the clock, includes a database of resumes available to national hiring managers. 

On Jan. 11, UMGC Career Services hosts a webinar on resumes for career changers. For information on this and other upcoming webinars, click here