A peek into the nuances of the pandemic and seasonal changes on unemployment job availability

The table below shows every occupation group that had a workforce shortage or a workforce surplus throughout the month of October. October is an interesting month: it’s far enough away from the major impacts of the pandemic in April, but it’s also before new restrictions were put in place in November. In addition, October is a transition month for many industries that thrive in the summer and slow down in the winter, which shows up in the data as seasonal employment.

A workforce shortage in a particular region means that there were more job positions available in an occupational group than individuals filing unemployment claims in that same occupational group. A workforce surplus means there were fewer job positions available in the region than individuals filing unemployment claims in that particular occupational group, hence, a surplus of workers for the number of jobs available.

The table shows a couple themes in rural Minnesota.

First, the major disruptions the pandemic caused in certain industries created high unemployment and workforce surpluses in every region in occupations that require a lower skill set. These occupation groups included:

  • Food preparation and serving-related
  • Sales and related
  • Office and administrative support

The skills needed for jobs in these groups don’t typically align well with the skills required for many of the jobs in the occupation groups that were experiencing a workforce shortage in nearly every region:

  • Healthcare practitioners and technical
  • Community and social services
  • Architecture and engineering
  • Computer and mathematical
  • Life, physical, and social science

A few occupation groups did experience employment surpluses, meaning that there were more workers available in these occupations than there were open job positions, but what separates these groups from groups like food prep and office support is that these jobs require more training and education:

  • Education, training, and library, and
  • Healthcare support.

October is also a transition month, when many industries begin laying off workers for the winter. Quite a few occupation groups experienced a higher number of unemployment claims than job postings in October, which is typical across nearly all regions.

  • Production
  • Construction and extraction
  • Farming, fishing and forestry
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance

A few other occupation groups show up in the rural EDRs that are a bit more complicated. These occupation groups can either show up as experiencing workforce surpluses or shortages depending on the region. It’s challenging to determine the cause, but it’s likely due to the differences in industry makeup in each region and the specific types of products or services being produced. For example, transportation and material moving in Northwest and Southwest might be experiencing more unemployment claims in October due to the slowdown in agricultural products to move post-harvest, while in Central, there may be more transportation jobs available as commerce gears up for the holiday season.

Occupation groups showing both worker surpluses and shortages, depending on EDR region:

  • Transportation and material moving
  • Management
  • Business and financial operations
  • Installation, maintenance and repair
  • Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media
  • Personal care and service

What this tells us is that even though there are some large, over-arching occupation groups being impacted by the pandemic, the workforce and industry dynamics are still quite complicated and nuanced. Even in a significant global event like we are in right now, each region—and each region’s workforce development organization—is facing its own unique situation requiring tailored strategies and programs.

Table 1: Occupational groups experiencing workforce shortages and surpluses in October 2020 in each Economic Development Region. Each occupational group is ranked in terms of severity of the shortage or surplus. If an occupational group is ranked 1, that means it had the largest shortage of workers or largest surplus of workers. Data: MN DEED, Continuous Unemployment Claims & National Labor Exchange