SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level ever recorded last month — registering at 2.3% for the month of December.
“The economy continues adding to multiple years of robust job creation. This dynamic has carried Utah to its lowest recorded unemployment rate,” said Mark Knold, chief economist with the state Department of Workforce Services.
“The job market is humming along at a feverish pace and is absorbing as much labor as possible.”
The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Friday that the seasonally adjusted jobless rate declined one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous month. Data showed approximately 37,900 Utahns were considered unemployed and actively seeking work during December.
Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate held steady at 3.5%.
The final month of 2019 culminated with a historic employment picture heading into the new year, according to a local analyst.
Knold said nonfarm payroll employment for December 2019 increased by an estimated 3.3%, with the Utah economy bringing on 50,400 new jobs since December 2018. Currently, approximately 1.6 million Utahns are considered gainfully employed.
Knold said Utah’s private sector employment grew by 3.6% over the past 12 months, adding 46,700 new positions to the local economy. Data indicated that nine of the 10 private sector industry groups measured in the establishment survey posted net job increases for December — with the category of “other services” as the lone outlier — remaining unchanged, adding no net jobs for the period.
The report showed the largest private sector employment increases were in education and health services, which added 12,400 jobs; construction, which added 9,700 new positions; along with professional and business services adding 7,500 jobs. The fastest employment growth occurred in construction — up 9.5%, with education and health services climbing 6%, along with leisure and hospitality services increasing 3.8%.
Meanwhile, employment specialists note that with jobs so plentiful in the Beehive State, employers will have to do more to attract and retain the best talent with so many viable options available to job seekers.
“Companies are really needing to pay more and (create) different compensation packages,” said Damian Garcia, regional vice president for the employment agency Robert Half. “So (it’s) not just compensation, with the rising cost of health care, benefits are becoming more and more and more important.”
He said candidates are looking for high-quality benefits packages that can help mitigate the cost of living and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Being able to work remotely has become a highly valued option for prospective workers who appreciate the ability to not be in an office all the time, he said.
“Studies have shown over the last decade that people working remotely are getting just as much — and in some cases, more accomplished working remotely than they are being in the office 40 hours a week,” Garcia said.
Other popular benefits offered include fitness memberships or on-site gyms as well as variable work schedules to accommodate families and differing lifestyles, he added.
Another highly coveted perk is unlimited paid time off, which he said more employers are including in their benefits packages.
“It is very unique. You just take however much time you’d like — 24-hour notice is all you need (in some cases),” he explained.
“It’s a sign of the importance that people are putting on ‘not living to work, but working to live,’ the focus on family and the focus on things outside of their of their vocation,” Garcia said. “(Work) is still very, very important but employers are starting to — and quite frankly — need to recognize that they’re going to be stuck with candidates that maybe aren’t the quality or have the experience or the skill set that their business needs to continue to grow (without including such perks).”
He said with the economy being so robust, companies are growing at a faster pace and they need to hire qualified talent to continue their upward trend.
“If you don’t have the talent to do it and you can’t attract the talent to do it because you’re not offering a package of benefits (with) compensation, opportunity and training that’s attractive, you’re going to be hamstrung,” he said. “You got to have the talent in the seat to grow and to achieve your initiatives. It starts with the people.”
He noted that the construction industry is currently the No. 1 sector for prospective employees, along with education, health services as well as leisure and hospitality and natural resources. Technology is also a high demand employment sector, he said.
Garcia said because workers have so many choices, employers will have to make more of an effort to retain quality talent than in previous years.
“Once you get them in the door, invest in the individual and really spend the time to connect with every individual in your organization and find out what’s important to them (and) finding out what drives them,” he said. “You’re focusing on the individual first and do that with everybody in your organization and on your teams, whether you’re a midlevel manager, senior manager or an entry-level manager.
“That is what’s going to retain your staff — really helping them but at the same time challenging them and helping them get better.”