HR’s Views on the Labor Market in 2015

By Joseph Coombs Dec 4, 2015
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The U.S. labor market has continued to add jobs this year, and in recent months the unemployment rate has fallen to levels not seen since 2008. And yet, there is plenty of evidence that hiring could be even stronger: Job openings in our country’s labor force remain at near-record levels, and many HR professionals have cited challenges with finding qualified applicants for their vacancies.

This ongoing recruiting difficulty was just one trend highlighted in research produced by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2015. Though some HR professionals struggled with staffing, others were confident about the labor market’s health overall, as well as their own job prospects in the human resources sector. What follows is a summary of HR professionals’ responses to a variety of surveys conducted by SHRM in 2015.

More than three out of 10 HR professionals in the manufacturing (30.4 percent) and service (34 percent) sectors said their level of recruiting difficulty increased in November, according to SHRM’s Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report. Those struggles may have forced some organizations to open their wallets wider in order to acquire top talent. For the bulk of 2015 in services and manufacturing, recruiting difficulty was at four-year highs, as was the number of employers in both sectors that increased their new-hire compensation.

The surveys in SHRM’s Strategic Benefits Series found that about two-fifths (38 percent) of HR professionals across all industries said their organizations had difficulty recruiting employees at all levels of the organization in the past 12 months, a significant increase from 2013 (26 percent) and 2012 (23 percent). More than half (55 percent) said they struggled to recruit highly skilled employees.

HR professionals were less concerned about their own job security in 2015 than the previous year, according to SHRM’s HR Jobs Pulse Survey Report. Twenty-seven percent reported some degree of concern with job security in the summer of 2015, down from 29 percent in December 2014 and a sharp decline from 39 percent in January 2014. From the same survey, the vast majority (88 percent) of HR professionals had some level of confidence that they could land a new position, if needed.

In turn, many HR professionals had faith about the job market’s overall health in 2015, according to SHRM’s Jobs Outlook Survey for the second half of 2015. Nearly seven out of 10 (69 percent) HR professionals had some level of confidence in the job market and expected job growth during the July to December time frame. That marked the highest level of optimism since the survey was launched in January 2009.

Demographic trends could be an important consideration for HR professionals in the near future, according to The Aging Workforce Research Initiative, a joint effort by SHRM and the SHRM Foundation, and underwritten by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Older workers—defined by the initiative as those ages 55 and older—represent a growing proportion of the labor force, and their decision to remain on the job longer or retire in large numbers will have significant implications for staffing management strategies. While many HR professionals (36 percent) said their organizations had begun to examine policies and practices in order to address this change, many others had not: Thirteen percent said they were not aware of the change, 19 percent said they were just becoming aware of this change, and another 20 percent had examined their workforce and determined that no changes in policies and practices were necessary.

Elsewhere, recruiting continues to expand online for many HR professionals, according to a collaborative effort of SHRM and Ascendo Resources. In the survey, 87 percent of respondents said it was either very or somewhat important for job seekers to have a social media presence on LinkedIn, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of HR professionals said their organizations had hired new employees who were sourced through social media sites.

SHRM’s 2015 Employee Benefits survey showed that a greater percentage of organizations have been providing retirement tools such as one-on-one individual investment advice and retirement preparation advice over the last five years. More organizations are also turning to health and wellness programs as a means of keeping health care expenses in check.

SHRM’s 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report revealed that “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” was rated as “very important” by 72 percent of employees in 2014, making it the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction. At 64 percent, “trust between employees and senior management” was the second most important contributor to job satisfaction.

More than one-third (35 percent) of HR professionals said their organizations brought 2015 graduates onto their payrolls, according to SHRM’s The Hiring of 2015 College Graduates survey. Twenty percent hired students to begin work after they graduated, and another 15 percent hired students to start work before graduation.

Increasing health care costs continued to affect levels of benefits coverage in 2015, according to SHRM’s Health Care Reform—2015 Update survey. Nearly three out of five (59 percent) HR professionals said their organizations made changes to health care coverage in 2015 compared with the previous year. Those changes apparently did little to complicate staffing management strategies, though: More than half of HR professionals said the changes had no impact on recruitment or retention (54 percent and 55 percent, respectively), and one-quarter (25 percent) said they had a positive impact on both recruitment and retention.

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.

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