Omicron and Job Growth: What to Know

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Omicron and Job Growth: What to Know

Let’s talk about Omicron and job growth. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!

By now, it’s no secret COVID sent the global job market into a tailspin—one that did not leave the U.S. markets unscathed. At one point during the second year of the pandemic, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) dubbed it “one of the worst job crises since the Great Depression.”

No one would deny it’s been a chaotic time. People have been losing their jobs, quitting their jobs, and job-hopping left and right, leading to quite a bit of economic uncertainty.

But now that we’re wading into 2022, with vaccinations and variants in the mix, is the COVID crisis turning out to be as bad as everyone predicted when it comes to economic growth? And are all job sectors being impacted in the same way? Are we in the same boat as we were a year ago? Are the pundits and the media exaggerating to keep us tuned in? 

Perhaps most importantly, what does all this hand-wringing and arm-flailing mean for the average job seeker

Employment by the Numbers

Stepping back to look at late 2021 and early 2022 employment numbers side-by-side reveals some interesting developments.

According to recent reporting, although employment increased “less than expected” in December of 2021, the outlook for 2022 was still largely hopeful. Though some of the growth late in the year was no doubt fueled by the temporary uptick in holiday-related seasonal jobs, the overall outlook for ongoing growth still seemed favorable. 

work professionals

This, of course, was before the omicron variant exploded nationwide a few weeks later, the effects of which were first felt in early January and are still making themselves fully known.

Though job growth numbers do face a dip, this bump in the road isn’t expected to have lasting results:

Generally, economists expect another year of sturdy job gains in 2022 that drive payrolls above their pre-pandemic level, but the omicron surge could delay that recovery in the short term. (USA Today)

Overall, this is great news. 

But in the meantime, as we live through the omicron dip, are the ripple effects of this variant affecting all sectors evenly? 

Omicron and Job Growth in the Public Sector

There’s evidence that all sectors are not recovering at the same rates. In fact, public sector jobs are recovering at a much slower rate than private sector ones. 

Public sector jobs may include

  • Local government jobs (firefighters, police officers, librarians, city officials)
  • State government jobs (prosecutors, healthcare workers, state troopers)
  • Small-town posts (overseeing departments of only a few other people)
  • Big-city posts (overseeing departments of hundreds or thousands)

The problems the public sector is experiencing leave public services departments—particularly police departments, libraries, and sanitation services—struggling to maintain basic operations. Understaffed due to cuts, illnesses, and various related factors, many public departments are currently floundering.

professionals giving a presentation

Ironically, however, many of these same departments temporarily halted their hiring and training programs during the pandemic, meaning they’re not able to onboard the very workers they need to keep their heads above water.

Even for the public service departments that are still hiring, there are complications.

As employers, many states are still trying to figure out how and when to return the whole of their workforces to offices while having to compete for talent in a labor market tighter than it’s been for a generation. (Governing)

In short, things are messy in the public sector, and though there’s clearly the need for new hires, public sector jobs are lagging behind private ones for the time being. 

Private Sector Jobs Picking Up?

The fact that the pandemic has hit public sector jobs harder than the private sector doesn’t mean the private sector hasn’t faced its own issues. 

According to Kamyar Shah, business consultant and Fractional’s Chief Operating Officer, the private sector has not been immune to the effects of omicron.

In particular, we have seen a slowdown in the retail and hospitality sectors. The leisure and hospitality sector added just 9,000 jobs in December, down from a monthly average of over 100,000 jobs over the previous three months. Similarly, retail employment fell by 3,300 in December. This is not to say that these sectors will shed jobs going forward. In fact, our analysis suggests that job growth will return for both industries in early 2022 as the outbreak begins to abate. However, we do expect there to be a lag between the stabilization of infection rates and a resumption of robust job growth.*

There’s a theory, however, that omicron’s impact on private sector job growth will be temporary. 

Especially considering that the private sector has a few things going for it: the ability to make quick pivots and an increased tendency to employ remote workers.

Quick Pivots

While no business model is entirely free of red tape, companies in the private sector have a much greater capacity to make changes and adapt on the fly. When needed, they can pivot on a dime, unencumbered by the creaky bureaucracy of the public sector.

Remote Workers

Perhaps it’s no surprise, given the current context, that the highest percentage of job growth in the private sector has been in large companies, ones that are best suited to offer positions to remote workers.

With omicron surging and people wary of returning to in-person work environments, companies that can take advantage of this opportunity definitely should.

And so should prospective employees.

What This Means for Your Job Search

Even if you aspire to enter public work one day, for the time being, you may want to focus your job search on the private sector. Rather than leaving a gap in your resume because you’re waiting for the “perfect job” (one that might not even be hiring again until the pandemic ends), you can gain valuable experience right now in the private sector—most likely in a remote position.

professional in remote meeting

Far from worrying that a remote position won’t lead to secure employment, you can rest assured that the remote trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere:

  • 16% of all global companies are now fully remote
  • 22% of the workforce are likely to be working remotely by 2025
  • 32% of hiring managers believe remote work increases productivity 
  • 32% of those working from home due to public health concerns would like to do so permanently

By leveraging the opportunities currently available as remote positions, you can jumpstart your job search and fill the positions that are open right now. 

The Future of Employment

No one is quite sure what the future of employment will look like. All we can do is make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. 

Even this year, as 2022 continues to unfold, we may face new challenges related to the ongoing pandemic. The public health crisis is likely to keep evolving, and as it does, the job markets will follow suit. To have the best chances of success, we must keep adapting to it.

Ruth Buchanan
Ruth Buchanan
Ruth Buchanan has spent the last decade writing for the business and corporate worlds. Blending careful research with insightful commentary, she seeks to help job seekers level up in their chosen career paths. A US-based writer, she currently works from the shadow of the Carolina foothills.

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