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Alan Kotok , ,

In January and February, Job Prospects for Scientists Improved

Ads posted online for science, engineering, and related workers stayed about the same or declined in most categories during February 2010. But in one category of interest to Science Careers readers, the job market improved markedly for job seekers.

In January — the latest month for which this information is available — the ratio of unemployed workers seeking science and engineering jobs tightened slightly, reflecting a somewhat improved market for job hunters. The Conference Board, a private business and economic research institute, provides these data, which are tracked monthly by Science Careers.

Online job ads

For most categories of science and engineering employment, the number of online job openings in February ended a string of consecutive gains in the previous 2-4 months. But opportunities for life, physical, and social scientists advertised
online increased by
about 5000 to nearly 80,000, the largest monthly gain recorded for this
group since the Science Careers index began in July 2009. In contrast, ads for computer and mathematical science jobs declined in February by 6500, to 510,000 — still well above the 474,000 recorded in December 2009. Architecture and engineering jobs posted online in February stayed about the same as January, at 136,000.  

In the related categories of health professionals and education staff, however, the numbers of online job ads declined, for one group markedly. Online ads for health care practitioners and technical workers declined by more than 30,000 to 537,000 in February, a one-month drop of 5% that more than reversed the gains for that group in January. During most of 2009, opportunities for health professionals had been one of the bright spots in a generally dismal employment picture, but the number of ads in this category have not exceeded the 600,000 recorded in September 2009.

Online jobs for education, library, and training staff declined by 3100 in February, to 83,000, ending four-month string of gains but remaining well above the 75,000 registered in December 2009.

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Job market competitiveness

The Conference Board provides a gauge of job-market competitiveness — a ratio of online ads to the number of unemployed workers in the job market — for these categories. However, the most up-to-date unemployment data, taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports, are a month older than the job-ad numbers, so the ratios calculated below are from January 2010, a month earlier than the numbers cited above.

The January Conference Board ratios showed considerable improvement for
life, physical, and social scientists. In January 2010, the number of
unemployed job seekers in this group dropped by more than 27%, to about
73,000, while their number of online ads increased by 3700 to nearly
75,000. As a result, the number of job seekers was about equal to the
number of job ads in January — a decline in the job-market ratio from
1.4 in December 2009 to about 1.0 in January.

Indeed, in most categories during January 2010 the number of new online employment ads generally exceeded the number of newly unemployed job hunters, resulting in a somewhat improved market for people seeking those jobs. The main beneficiaries of this improved job market were education, training, and library staff, where online job ads increased by nearly 11,000 and the number of unemployed job hunters dropped under 425,000. The result: In this category the number of job seekers per online ad dropped from nearly six in December to about five in January. That’s still a very tough market, the worst in the Science Careers index and the only group tracked by Science Careers where the ratio is worse than the overall U.S. job market.  

Among the other three categories tracked by Science Careers, the ratios of job seekers to job ads stayed about the same in January 2010 as in December 2009. For computer and mathematical scientists, and health care practitioners and technical workers, this meant there were more job ads than unemployed workers seeking those jobs, at least through January. Architects and engineers continued facing a more competitive job market that month, with about two job hunters for each online ad.

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For the U.S. overall in February, the number of online job ads declined by 67,000 to just under 4 million, ending three straight monthly gains but remaining well above the 3.6 million level registered in December 2009. In January 2010 the number of job ads overall increased by nearly 382,000 while the number of unemployed job seekers declined to under 15 million for the first time since August 2009. These changes resulted in a ratio of 3.7 unemployed job hunters per online job ad, an improvement from the ratio of 4.2 recorded in December 2009.