Hiring showed modest but consistent gains as 2012 came to a close. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 155,000 in December, a slight uptick from the 2012 monthly average of 153,000, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Manufacturing and services were among of the sectors that the report said had experienced increased employment. These gains are indicative of an overall trend in the economy, said Libby Bierman, analyst at the financial analysis company SageWorks.
"When we look at small companies, several of the private-company industries that gained momentum in 2012 are related to manufacturing," Bierman said in an e-mail. "These industries took a hit during the recession like most others, but for the last 12 months, metals manufacturing, industrial machine manufacturing and machine shops have experienced very healthy sales growth, more than 15 percent."
She added that in manufacturing industries, sales growth often indicates demand from other businesses down the supply chain. "Continued increasing demand could be a sign that these wholesale and eventually retail companies are expecting sales increases, too," she said.
Bierman pointed to growth in the services sector. She cited employment services firms and computer system design firms, which grew at almost 21 percent and 16 percent respectively throughout 2012.
"Computer system design firms did well even during the recession," she said. "Custom computer or software work is something of a requirement for new or growing businesses, which partially explains the more-than-double-digit growth this industry has had each year since the recession."
The boost in revenue at employment service firms, she said, may be indicative of the fact that many companies are still sheepish about hiring. "Over the past year, rather than risk a full-time hire, companies might have sought out temporary workers through these firms or used these firms to find the best candidates available," she said.
Manufacturing jobs increased by 25,000 in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction did slightly better, adding 30,000 jobs, thanks to increases in building construction and residential specialty trade contractors. Bierman said that construction employment continued to see growth --- albeit slow growth --- and the recent upturn in the housing sector was the reason why.
"Several of these slow-growth industries are related to construction and housing," she said. "Since there has been some positive news coming from that sector recently, hopefully their performance will continue to improve."
What these industries all have in common is a fundamental relationship to other economic activity, so if one of them is experiencing growth, the business that relies on it also does well. While this is good news, it's an open question how good it is, and how long it will stay that way.
"If that demand continues to increase or is even sustained at the current level, these industries might have to hire to fulfill market demand," Bierman said. While this is cause for guarded optimism, a workforce still recovering from the effects of the recession should remain cautious before declaring the economy and the job market recovered. After all, there's a long way to go from an increase in production to a full recovery.