The latest jobs numbers from the US Department of Labor, released on Friday, show that the US economy continues to create jobs at a robust pace despite historically low levels of unemployment. According to the April report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 263,000 jobs were created last month, overshooting analysts’ predictions in the range of 185,000-190,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, a level not seen in the US since December 1969.
Wages also rose, albeit more modestly than economists would expect to see in such a tight labor market: Average hourly earnings were up 0.2 percent month-to-month for a 3.2 percent increase over the last 12 months. While this was nearly the best year-over-year growth figure since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, it doesn’t make up for years of stagnation, while inflation wiped out a significant portion of those gains, Vox highlighted in its coverage of the jobs report:
The latest pay data suggests that workers and labor unions will continue to strike to force businesses to boost wages. Slow income growth has been the weakest part of the US economy in its recovery from the Great Recession. Wages have barely kept up with the cost of living, even as the unemployment rate dropped and the economy expanded. April’s 6-cent average hourly wage hike suggests more of the same, despite a surprising 10-cent jump in February.
Over the past year, the cost of food and housing has gone up, so paychecks have had to stretch further. But because of recent falling gas prices, the annual inflation rate has fallen to 1.9 percent, compared to a high of 2.4 percent in 2018 (based on the Consumer Price Index). So when you take inflation into account, workers’ real wages only grew about 1.3 percent within the past year.
There are also reasons to hesitate before celebrating the decline in the unemployment rate, the New York Times pointed out, noting that “the factors behind it aren’t as hopeful as the headline number itself”:
In recent months, many employers have been noticing a trend of candidates and employees “ghosting” them — a term borrowed from online dating that refers to someone dropping out of contact without so much as a goodbye. Recruiters are seeing candidates make it halfway through the hiring process, then simply stop responding to phone calls, text messages, or emails. Chip Cutter, then a managing editor at LinkedIn, was among the first to spot the trend last June:
Where once it was companies ignoring job applicants or snubbing candidates after interviews, the world has flipped. Candidates agree to job interviews and fail to show up, never saying more. Some accept jobs, only to not appear for the first day of work, no reason given, of course. Instead of formally quitting, enduring a potentially awkward conversation with a manager, some employees leave and never return. Bosses realize they’ve quit only after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach them. The hiring process begins anew. …
Some of the behavior may stem not from malice, but inexperience. Professionals who entered the workforce a decade ago, during the height of the Great Recession, have never encountered a job market this strong. The unemployment rate is at an 18-year low. More open jobs exist than unemployed workers, the first time that’s happened since the Labor Dept. began keeping such records in 2000. The rate of professionals quitting their jobs hit a record level in March; among those who left their companies, almost two thirds voluntarily quit. Presented with multiple opportunities, professionals face a task some have rarely practiced: saying no to jobs.
It’s not only candidates, either; in December, the Washington Post reported that more employees were also “ghosting” their employers, walking out of work one day and not showing up again, with no notice or explanation:
With the tightest labor market in decades, US employers in most industries are having a hard time filling roles. One sector that is especially hurting for workers is construction, where the labor shortage coincides with growing demand for housing and commercial development in American cities large and small. There’s a lot of work to be done, but not enough people to do it.
At the same time as unemployment is historically low, however, many Americans are underemployed, not looking for work, or lacking in marketable job skills. Some cities are now looking at the construction worker shortage as a chance to help improve the skills, incomes, and employability of underserved populations. The New York Times took a look at what these cities are doing in a recent feature:
Facing a tight labor pool, developers, public officials and community organizations are using commercial projects to provide residents with careers in construction. Together, they’re making an effort to recruit men and women from impoverished neighborhoods or challenged populations, such as former prison inmates. In booming markets like San Francisco, Denver and Miami, where gentrification is squeezing affordable housing, demand for these types of programs is growing.
The training programs are also occurring in smaller markets. In Milwaukee, for example, Gorman & Company, an apartment developer, has teamed up with city, state and community agencies to give former inmates on-the-job training restoring dilapidated, tax-foreclosed homes, which are then rented to low-income earners.
The commercial airline industry is currently facing a shortage of pilots unprecedented in recent decades. As Jon Evans observed at TechCrunch last week, the number of active pilots in the US has fallen from over 800,000 in 1980 to just 600,000 in 2017, a quarter of whom are student pilots who are unqualified to operate commercial flights. And as Evans discovered by taking up pilot training himself, part of the reason behind that shortage is that the training is “complicated, and difficult, and stressful”; many would-be pilots get frustrated and give up long before they make it to the big leagues.
Another barrier to entry, however, is expense. The reason so many commercial pilots have military backgrounds is that the military is about the only place pilots can log the thousands of hours of flight time they need to become certifiable commercial pilots without having to pay for it themselves. With the US airline industry expecting to face a shortage of 3,500 commercial pilots by 2020, Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk takes note of a new vocational training program American Airlines is launching in an effort to build a bigger pipeline to the cockpit:
The Cadet Academy will train participants for up to 18 months at American Airlines’ partner flight schools in Dallas, the Fort Lauderdale area, Memphis or Phoenix. Students will follow what American calls “a carefully choreographed flight-training track, where you will learn the skills to become a safe and competent aviator.”
Those who finish the program will have the opportunity to interview at [American’s wholly owned regional carriers] Envoy, Piedmont and PSA. Program applicants need not have experience in the cockpit. Participants will have the option of receiving financing from Discover Student Loans. The company said it would offer loans at competitive rates, either variable or fixed, that have no fees. Payments can be deferred for up to three-and-a-half years.
American’s new program is in keeping with a trend among employers facing current or prospective shortages of talent in their industries: Rather than wait for governments or educational institutions to produce more qualified candidates, they are taking matters into their own hands. The most notable companies pursuing these self-starting workforce development strategies are tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook, but other companies are also investing in vocational training on the blue-collar side of the labor market.
For a growing number of US employers, the answer is “no,” Rebecca Greenfield and Jennifer Kaplan report at Bloomberg, pointing to organizations like Excellence Health, a 6,000-employee company which stopped testing candidates outside safety-sensitive roles for marijuana two years ago and now no longer bothers drug testing them at all:
We don’t care what people do in their free time,” said Liam Meyer, a company spokesperson. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance,’” he added. The company also added a hotline for any workers who might be struggling with drug use.
With marijuana becoming legal in more states, a historically tight labor market, and rising rates of illegal drug use (particularly cannabis) causing the number of candidates who can pass drug tests to dwindle, more employers are finding that a zero-tolerance approach to drugs is no longer effective. Like Excellence Health, many have shifted their policies on drug use toward helping employees who struggle with abuse and addiction instead, treating drugs primarily as a health and safety issue rather than a legal issue.
This is particularly true for employers in states that have legalized marijuana, such as Colorado, Greenfield and Kaplan note. Others are moving in the same direction, however, though some are not eager to advertise their softening stance on drug use. Amid a rise in the number of American adults who use drugs and a growing recognition that smoking pot doesn’t disqualify an employee from most jobs any more than drinking alcohol does, pre-employment drug testing “is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use,” they write:
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is scheduled to come into force on May 25, represents a massive overhaul of data privacy law throughout the bloc. The GDPR expands the reach of existing privacy regulations, applying not just to European organizations but to all companies processing the personal data of EU residents, no matter where the company is located. It also requires organizations to request users’ consent for data collection “in an intelligible and easily accessible form,” while granting EU citizens a number of new rights, including the right to access data collected about them and the “right to be forgotten,” or to have that data erased. Organizations caught violating the regulation will be fined as much as 4 percent of their annual global turnover or 20 million euros.
With the enforcement date of this massive new regulation just months away, “data protection officers are suddenly the hottest properties in technology,” Reuters’ Salvador Rodriguez reports:
More than 28,000 will be needed in Europe and the US and as many as 75,000 around the globe as a result of GDPR, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) estimates. The organization said it did not previously track DPO figures because, prior to GDPR, Germany and the Philippines were the only countries it was aware of with mandatory DPO laws.
Last year, the Montreal-based startup Element AI estimated that there were fewer than 10,000 people worldwide with the necessary skills to design artificial intelligence/machine learning systems, but the Chinese internet conglomerate Tencent Holdings later estimated the total number of AI researchers and practitioners at between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
Element AI came out with a new estimate on Wednesday, Jeremy Kahn reports at Bloomberg, putting the number of AI specialists with recently-earned PhDs at 22,000, of whom 3,000 are looking for work. With less restrictive parameters, however, the total number of AI experts could be four times greater:
Element AI said it scoured LinkedIn for people who earned PhDs since 2015 and whose profiles also mentioned technical terms such as deep learning, artificial neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing or robotics. In addition, to make the cut, people needed coding skills in programming languages such as Python, TensorFlow or Theano.