Workforce ProjectionsUnderpinning many of the assumptions we use every day in our work as economic developers is foundational work from government agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among their standard reports is one that forecasts employment projections looking out 10 years. To say that COVID-19 disrupted those projections would be an understatement.

As a result, BLS recently updated its 2019-2029 employment projections based on “long-term structural changes in the U.S. labor market that are caused by changes in consumer and firm behavior as a result of the pandemic.”

What does the research include?

In a nutshell, the research shares its original forecasts (before COVID) and then creates two alternative scenarios to estimate some of the long-term labor-market changes that may result from the pandemic. The first is the “moderate impact” scenario and the second is the “strong impact” scenario.

The highlights

The “moderate impact” scenario:

  • Increased remote working and telework will be the primary force of economic change, and that has both direct and spillover effects.
        • With more employees teleworking, the need for office space will decline, and so will nonresidential construction.
        • Spending for employee trips to offices, including commuting costs, business travel, and lunchtime restaurant spending, are all lower here than in the baseline projections.
  • Jobs projected to grow because of the pandemic are those requiring higher education and medical and/or information technology expertise.
        • On the medical side, these include epidemiologists, medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists, microbiologists, and biological technicians.
        • On the information technology side, the demand for IT security in particular will increase, but it also includes web developers and digital interface designers, network and computer systems administrators, computer network architects, information security analysis, and database administrators and architects.
  • Jobs projected to decline because of the pandemic are those that tend to require a high school diploma or less, especially hospitality, retail, and services skills.
        • These include hosts and hostesses, bartenders, ticket agents and travel clerks, hotel/motel clerks, waiters and waitresses, receptionists, cashiers, flight attendants, subway operators and bus drivers.

The “strong impact” scenario:

All of the impacts from the “moderate impact” scenario but the consumer and firm behaviors associated with them are amplified:

  • Consumer preferences for avoiding interpersonal contact leads to further declines in restaurant dining, travel, and accommodation.
  • Telework continues to expand, leading to further gains for associated IT support positions.
  • People’s desire to avoid large crowds leads to declines in employment demand for industries that depend on large gatherings, including live sporting events, theaters, and concerns.

What does it mean for economic developers?

It is important for economic developers to understand these projections, and what impacts and implications they may have for their own community and workforce. Below are only a few implications to consider:

  • Communities that rely more on low-skilled labor requiring a high school diploma or less stand more to lose from the impacts of the recession. It raises the urgency of discussions around the need to re-skill and up-skill the workforce to move them into higher-skill occupations in the short-term.
  • In the long-term, pre-existing trends towards automation will continue unabated, further obsoleting low-skill occupations and increasing the necessity of re-skilling and up-skilling the workforce into higher-skill occupations.
  • While many workers will return to the office eventually, the increasing prevalence of remote working and telework are likely here to stay. It creates opportunities for communities to attract and retain talent if they can offer the quality of life, cost of living, housing, and broadband infrastructure necessary to support those remote workers.
  • More remote workers will mean less need and demand for office space, creating opportunities for communities to pivot and re-purpose office space for other uses such as housing units, warehousing space, etc.

The sooner we acknowledge these fundamental changes, the better we can address the challenges and opportunities they will create. If you need help navigating the new landscape, please reach out to us. We’d be happy to share our thoughts or set up a free consultation.

P.S. For the data geeks, here is a link to the study, which has much more detail: There’s a lot more detail in the study, which you can read in its entirety here.