SALT LAKE CITY — Analysts say that with unemployment in Utah at historic lows, the prospects for better pay in the workplace have improved. With demand for qualified candidates high, this year may be one of the best times for job seekers.
When Marine reservist Capt. Bethanie Simms, 35, was working as a military police officer on deployment in Afghanistan, she had no idea that she would one day take those skills to a totally different world in the field of business.
Prior to joining the military, she worked in New York City as a legal assistant, but said she always wanted a career in the military. At age 31, she enlisted and became an officer in the reserves who used her leadership skills to maintain order and guide mission operations within her unit.
She connected with a former military colleague who told her about a program that recruited veterans into the financial services industry. The notion piqued her interest, prompting the Colorado native to move to Utah eight months ago to take a job with Goldman Sachs.
At Goldman, Simms works in operations, ensuring that project workflow is smooth and facilitating mission completion. She noted that quick-thinking under pressure to solve complex challenges, strong problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt to ever-changing workplace environments that were useful in the military translated well to the civilian business world.
She also said one of the main reasons she chose Utah was its strong economy and fertile job market.
“Being a next-door citizen, I was aware of the (Utah) economy and had just heard really good things about it,” Simms said. “The cost of living was low, pay was good and there were more jobs than people.”
Since relocating, she has not been disappointed, and recently bought a home near downtown.
“I’m very happy here,” she said.
Simms experience is not uncommon in Utah as the state’s expanding job market continues to solidify its reputation as among the best in the nation, and recently wages have begun to rise as well.
Data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services indicates that statewide wages rose for the final two quarters of last year by an average of nearly 3 percent. Some sectors, such as financial activities, saw average monthly wages jump by as much as 8.2 percent year-over-year from third quarter 2014 to the same period last year.
The real estate and rental and leasing sector saw wages climb 8 percent, with the finance and insurance sector increasing 7.8 percent, followed by the information sector at 6.9 percent for the year-over-year third quarter period.
Workforce Services chief economist Carrie Mayne said wage growth has strengthened and become “on par” with the current tight labor market.
The average monthly wage on a year-over-year comparison grew 2.7 percent during the second quarter 2015 and 3.2 percent year-over-year during the third quarter, she said. Pay growth that equals or exceeds inflation is considered strong in economic terms, meaning wage earners are able to maintain or improve their economic standing.
Mayne said that having pay growth trend upward across many employment sectors from relatively low wage industries to high salary fields indicates a robust overall economy that can sustain expansion over a longer period, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
“With two quarters of wage growth, low unemployment and high job growth, I think the trend will continue,” she said. As local companies maintain strength and bolster the economy, the demand for more qualified candidates will increase as well, she added.
Accounting and tech
The accounting/finance and technology sectors are in strong demand, according to Damian Garcia, regional vice president for employment firm Robert Half International in Salt Lake City. Particularly in Utah, those fields offer opportunities for growth due in part to the state’s low unemployment rate and a good supply of qualified candidates in the workforce, he said.
“We’re looking at a 4.7 percent (wage) increase in 2016 for accounting/finance professionals and 5.7 percent for technology,” he said. “Right now, they are the top (sectors) where candidates with that skill set are very much in demand.”
Many companies are adjusting compensation to ensure their offers are comparable or exceed the local averages, he said. Employers are also offering bonuses and "perks" to keep current employees, he added.
Garcia said the state’s exceptionally low jobless rate of 3.5 percent has attributed significantly to the upward trend in salaries, with some high-demand positions — such as financial analysts — currently at a 1 percent unemployment rate. With that kind of “tight” candidate market, the opportunities for qualified job seekers in the current environment are abundant, he said.
“(Companies) have to come to the table with a little bit more (and) are having to move quicker than before,” he said. While employers may have taken more time before choosing to extend offers to candidates, sometimes several weeks, today they have act swiftly or risk losing out to other employment suitors, he noted.
“That employment rate, as it continues to dip down, is a factor in Utah that each employer has to be very aware of when they are looking to make a hire,” Garcia said. “For job seekers in accounting/finance and tech, it absolutely is a candidate market.”
For the coming year, the fundamentals of the Utah economy suggest that the solid employment market will last throughout 2015, said Juliette Tennert, director of economics and public policy at the University of Utah’s Kem Gardner Public Policy Institute.
“The availability of jobs and the robust job growth has been pulling people in (to Utah),” she said. “Now with this additional boost in wages, we should see it even more.”