Where the Jobs Are: Supply and Demand for Occupations in North Carolina

<p>The number of unemployed job seekers previously employed in &ldquo;routine&rdquo; occupations is far larger than the number of jobs available in those fields. This article takes a closer look at the supply and demand for different types of work in North Carolina&rsquo;s changing labor market.</p>

Author: Andrew Berger-Gross

If you are a job seeker looking for work in North Carolina — or a workforce development professional who assists job seekers in the state — you may want to know what sort of occupations are most in demand. On the other hand, if you are an employer — or an economic developer tasked with attracting new business to the state — you may be more interested in whether the state has a sufficient labor pool to meet your production needs.

This article is the first in a series that aims to shed light on the supply and demand for different types of work in North Carolina. Previous dispatches from the LEAD Feed showed that the labor market in our state has struggled to match unemployed job seekers to available job vacancies during the economic recovery, and that much of this mismatch has been driven by problems associated with persistent long-term unemployment. However, when we dig past the headline numbers to examine individual occupations, a much richer picture of the supply and demand for labor emerges, presenting both opportunities and challenges for workers and employers in our state.

In this article, we compare job ad data from the Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine™ (HWOL) and estimates of the experienced labor pool from the Current Population Survey (CPS). By “experienced labor pool,” we are referring to those who are currently employed; unemployed job seekers who previously held work; and persons out of the labor force who held work within the most recent 12 months. Although this comparison has limitations, it can offer some revealing insights about the potential workforce in North Carolina.

Let’s first look at unemployed job seekers. The CPS collects data on the occupations where these workers were most recently employed — i.e., the type of work we’d expect to see listed at the top of their résumés. In 2014, the number of job advertisements was far larger than the number of unemployed workers in Computer and Mathematical, Healthcare Practitioners and Technical, and Architecture and Engineering occupations.i With little competition from other experienced unemployed workers, we might expect job seekers in these fields to benefit from a surplus of job opportunities.

Much less fortunate are those workers with experience in the occupations toward the bottom of the graph. Many of these occupations involve what economists call “routine work” — the type of repetitive tasks that once constituted the bulk of middle-class jobs (such as assembly line workers and office clerks) but are rapidly being automated and, in some cases, outsourced, resulting in massive job losses over the past 15 years. The unemployed in these fields may find little opportunity to parlay their previous work experience into new positions unless they have transferable skills that make them good candidates for work in more high-demand occupations.

However, this focus on the experienced unemployed ignores much of the labor pool. Recall from another recent LEAD Feed article that the majority of persons entering new jobs in any given month are workers who were already employed or were previously out of the labor force. If we expand our definition of labor supply to include these categories of workers, we can see that the population of potential job candidates is far larger than the number of job vacancies in any given occupation. This suggests that employers have a large pool to draw from when filling new job vacancies, even for high-demand Computer and Mathematical occupations.

Even this comparison, despite the breadth of its coverage, is too narrow to account for the entire labor pool. Missing from this comparison are those who graduate from school or discharge from the military without any previous civilian work experience. Moreover, a person’s previous job does not necessarily determine where they are able to work in the future — they may have abilities, skills, or interests that make them equally (or better) suited to work in a different occupation. 

LEAD is actively working to leverage data from North Carolina's Common Follow-up System (CFS) to develop a more accurate picture of labor supply and demand based on workers’ educational credentials and the specific needs of employers. We expect this research to result in powerful new tools to help guide worker training and job-search services, and provide employers with valuable information about North Carolina’s workforce.

In the meantime, we will continue to report on North Carolina’s labor market mismatch, its implications for economic growth, and what policymakers and service providers can do to make a difference on the ground.

General Disclaimers:

Data from HWOL and CPS are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. Note that the state-level CPS estimates are not directly comparable to state-level employment estimates from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program due to differences in methodology. Any mistakes in data management, analysis, or presentation are the author’s.


Note that some industries, such as construction, conduct much of their hiring without posting job vacancies. As a result, the number of online job ads might undercount the total number of available jobs in these industries.

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