As optimism picks up, so does hiring
Monday, May 17, 2010
After a yearlong hiring freeze during which it only replaced employees who left, Vienna-based contracting firm JTG is preparing to more than double its payroll from 23 to 53.
JTG officials said demand for their software, data and language analysis services fell off when the economy tanked in late 2008. Clients, including FedEx and the Defense and Agriculture departments, opted to postpone projects the company was counting on.
But suddenly this year, the phones started ringing again. "We're getting more work from existing clients, more work to bid on and more opportunities to acquire more clients," said Muriel Jérôme-O'Keeffe, the company's president and chief operating officer, adding that she's also seeing more multi-year contracts. "Customers appear to be more confident in the future -- less anxious than they were 12 months ago."
Hiring in the Washington region is picking up this year, propelled by the federal government's growth and the private sector's budding optimism about the economy based on renewed demand for their goods and services. When the government's April unemployment report for the region comes out next month, analysts said they think that for the first time since October 2008, the area will have added more jobs than it lost -- perhaps posting a net gain of 20,000 jobs.
Even outside the contracting sector, which dominates the economy here, analysts say they're seeing hopeful signs that widespread improvement in the job picture could be on the way. Recruiters and employment experts say that in the past few months, they've seen more job postings, more job openings, more candidates called for interviews and more hiring. An official for the SnagAJob.com site said listings for the region rose 67 percent this year.
Booz Allen Hamilton, based in McLean, plans to hire 3,000 people over the next 12 months and Capital One, also based in McLean, is creating 70 new positions. Adventist HealthCare, based in Rockville, is hiring 2,000 nurses, doctors and other medical professionals, and George Mason University is filling about 90 hourly positions at a new hotel and conference center it is opening in July. The federal government, one of the few sectors that continued adding jobs during the downturn, is expected to hire about 25,000 people in the region this year.
Yet many employers in hiring mode still are wary about whether the recovery is on solid footing. Every promising economic indicator seemingly is offset by a deeply troubling one, they say, such as the volatility in the stock market.
Some employers are filling only a small portion of the positions that are needed and are more closely scrutinizing candidates to determine whether hiring is warranted.
In the past, when talent was scarce, "you found someone who had the most of what you wanted and you'd settle," said Cynthia Ward, vice president of market and account services at the recruiting and career management firm Lee Hecht Harrison. Now recruiters are "taking more time, requiring candidates to meet with multiple people multiple times."
"They want to be sure -- they don't want the hire to be a mistake," she said. They're saying, " 'Are we really okay? Are we really recovering?' "
Moreover, company executives during the recession learned to save money, having adopted new software and processes that helped them boost productivity with fewer workers, and they say they don't plan to return to their old hiring levels. JTG has introduced "ways to produce the same results with less people," Jérôme-O'Keeffe said, adding that the company can hire six or seven fewer workers than it would have before. "I don't think we'll go back to the old way."
Paul Villella, chief executive of the Reston-based recruiting firm HireStrategy, has been tracking hiring in the region since 2000. An index he developed -- based on the number of job postings, openings, interviews and offers -- shows hiring in the area reached its lowest level during the recession in August 2009. It has been steadily improving since then, in April reaching its highest level since September 2008.