Originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 13, 2013.
The unemployment rate in the Richmond metro area drifted down to 5.6 percent in March.
While that rate is better than the national average of 7.6 percent, the local economy has a way to go before it is fully recovered from the recession.
Employment in the Richmond metro area stood at 628,800 in March — still about 6,600 jobs below the peak of 635,400 jobs in August 2007.
Based on the pace of employment growth in the region during the past year, we should exceed that peak before the end of the year. That job recovery is better than the for nation, which isn’t expected to reach the previous employment peak until July 2014 based on recent growth.
The prolonged recovery from the recession means new college graduates will again face a tight labor market.
Their ability to find a job, however, will vary greatly based on the knowledge and skills they acquired in high school or college.
New graduates hoping to work for professional business services firms might have a hard time finding jobs because those industries are still contracting in the Richmond metro area. For instance, two of the region’s largest law firms reduced employment over the past year, according to the Top 50 list of the area’s largest private employers.
Prospects are much better for new graduates with skills needed in the health care sector.
A little more than 1,600 new health care jobs were added to the metro area during the year ending in March, according to estimates from Chmura Economics & Analytics. Eight of the employers on the Top 50 list are health care related.
Looking ahead, Chmura Economics & Analytics is forecasting a need for an average 2,600 health care workers a year during the next decade in the Richmond metro area.
Of that amount, about 1,000 health care workers are needed annually to fill positions from which people have retired or moved to new occupations.
Even construction is looking promising again. This sector added 1,645 jobs in the Richmond region in the 12 months ending in March, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
Along with a moderate amount of on-the-job training, cabinetmakers or drywall installers can make an average of about $30,000 in the region, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average wage of electricians in the Richmond area, which typically requires an apprenticeship, is about $46,000.
Based on our forecasts, next year’s college graduates will see further improvements in the jobs market.
And those students who choose a career path linked to jobs that are in demand by regional businesses will clearly have better prospects upon graduation.