The Biggest Career-Related News Items of 2009

As 2009 draws to a close, I’m joining all the other critics, columnists, pundits, and bloviators in taking a backwards look at the year and commenting on the most momentous events, at least from my perspective as a writer in the field of career information.

By far the biggest news of the year was the calamitous loss of jobs. Statisticians chalked up 2008 as the worst year for job loss since the Depression, but the carnage continued throughout 2009. Although the unemployment rate went down slightly between October and November (when it was "only" 10.0 percent), an average of 135,000 payroll jobs were lost in each of the previous three months. Some industries and demographic groups were hit particularly hard. For example, newspapers lost over 15,000 employees well before the year was over. African American males suffered disproportionate job losses, partly because of layoffs in the manufacturing industries.

The next-biggest story, closely related to the first, was the Obama stimulus plan. In many ways, this legislation set the pattern that Obama’s health-care reform legislation now seems to be following: The legislation was sorely needed, it was severely compromised to the borderline of inadequacy by an effort to garner votes from Republicans and blue-dog Democrats, and it passed with almost no Republican votes. (Since the passage of the stimulus plan, several politicians who vocally opposed it have been welcoming stimulus money to their districts. It remains to be seen whether politicians who oppose health-care reform will take a similar rosy view when it appears in their rear-view mirrors.)

The stimulus bill was more than a job-creating program (in fact, it might have been better at bringing down unemployment if that had, in fact, been its primary focus); it provided a preview of the economic growth priorities of the Obama budget, which was another big career-related news story of 2009. Both the stimulus bill and the budget reflected dramatically increased commitments to green technologies, repair and upgrading of the infrastructure (including a smart power grid), and advanced manufacturing. They’re evidence that the administration recognizes (correctly, I believe) that these sectors of the economy are going to be critical for American competitiveness in the 21st century.

The last news item I’m going to highlight is the rise of Twitter, which became almost inescapable in 2009. Twitter is affecting careers in three main ways. First, it has become an important tool for finding job openings. The Web is already dotted with articles about how to do this, and you will be able to read about this in detail when Susan Britton Whitcomb’s The Twitter Job Search Guide is published in March. Second, those of us whose jobs depend on publicity and establishing a brand (and nowadays that means more and more people) are using tweets to reach the public directly. The advantages for an author like me are obvious, but last week, for example, I was recommending to my nephew that he start a Twitter feed. He’s general manager of a major metropolitan sports franchise, and it would be useful for him to be able to disseminate information without having to wait for journalists or depend on them for accuracy and appropriate spin. Finally, if we subscribe to appropriate Twitter feeds, we can all be better informed about job-related news and thus do our jobs better.

I’m not going to try to make predictions for 2010. I get in enough trouble just trying to analyze what’s already happening! But I hope it’s a good year for you and for those dear to you.

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