Three Workforce Trends to Watch in 2018

January 26, 2018

By: Caroline Alexander, senior consultant, TIP Strategies


Over the past decade concepts like full employment, the skills gap, and the gray tsunami—once primarily of interest to workforce professionals—have become pressing concerns in the economic development arena. Technological disruptions from automation and control engineering to digitalization and artificial intelligence, continue to cast a shadow on the future of jobs. In the face of these challenges, here are three trends that are worth paying attention to over the short term as you consider your community’s ability to support business growth.

1. The US Economy at Full Employment

Economists spent much of 2017 debating the point at which the nation’s unemployment rate dropped below “full employment,” a threshold where all workers who are willing and able are employed. There is little question however, that the most recent rate of 4.1 percent (December 2017) falls well below that mark. And there are indications it may decline further. The national unemployment rate, however, masks the underlying story of disparity. Race, educational attainment, and geography play a significant role in determining the labor outcomes of individuals. As a result, in spite of low unemployment at the national level, there are a number of pockets of available and potentially under-utilized labor pools.

For more, check out our Tableau data visualization, “The Economy at Full Employment?

2. Looming Retirements

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23 percent of employed individuals will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years, implying a potential turnover of up to 35 million jobs. This transition will require a massive transfer of institutional knowledge within organizations as these experienced workers depart the labor force. While large companies have the training infrastructure to make sure this transition is relatively smooth, most small- and medium-sized businesses are not well-equipped for succession planning or for the kind of on-the-job training that will be required for this changing of the guard.

3. Digitalization of Industry and Jobs

It is no secret that digital technology has been, and continues to be, integrated into the workflow of a wide range of occupations, from low-skill to high-skill jobs. From handheld devices that delivery drivers use to record signatures to high-capacity super computers, most jobs now involve some kind of digital human-machine interface. A recent study [PDF] by the Brookings Institution found that the share of jobs requiring high and medium digital skills grew from 45 percent in 2002 to more than 70 percent in 2016. This implies that basic digital literacy has become essential for all workers—in the same vein as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yet, large segments of the population remain without access to broadband, PCs, and even good cell service.

These trends are not new. Nevertheless, they will continue to influence labor markets in 2018 and to shape the fields of economic and workforce development. More importantly, these trends highlight the need for meaningful workforce planning—more, better, faster. While the future of jobs may be uncertain, one thing is clear: rapid technological advances and an insatiable demand for new workers with new skills will continue to be dominant trends in 2018.

Washington State: Planning for the Defense Sector’s Future

June 1, 2016

By: Ashton Allison, consultant, TIP Strategies
USS Abraham Lincoln Returns To Washington

USS Abraham Lincoln Returns to Washington [Image 2 of 2] by Seaman Jerine Lee via DVIDS (Public Domain)

In 2015, TIP Strategies was selected by the Washington Department of Commerce as the lead contractor for multiple phases of the state’s $4.3 million US Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) grant. The grant was awarded as part of OEA’s Defense Industry Adjustment program, which encompasses a range of planning activities designed to mitigate potential impacts of federal spending cuts on the defense sector.

The initial “Planning & Communication” phase of the grant focused on formalizing the Washington Military Alliance (WMA), a coalition of defense-related stakeholder organizations in the state. Completed in December 2015, this phase included the preparation of an organizational strategy and communications plan for the WMA, along with an inventory of stakeholders and assets. Our 2015 work for the Department of Commerce also included a review of an economic model of the state’s defense industry contracts prepared by a separate firm.

Earlier this year, TIP kicked off projects encompassing three additional phases of the grant. The work will be completed by September 2016 and includes a military and defense contractor services pilot program as well as two closely related projects: a statewide strategy and an implementation and sustainability plan.

  1. The pilot program—currently underway with management consulting firm, Kepner-Tregoe—will assist the state with the design and testing of potential economic diversification strategies specific to the defense services supply chain.
  2. The statewide strategy represents the culmination of OEA-funded planning efforts. When completed, this project will provide a clearly defined roadmap for ensuring the short-term and long-term success of the state’s military and defense sector.
  3. The sustainability plan will integrate the various grant-funded activities with existing state, local, and federal initiatives with the goal of transitioning the effort from OEA-funded support. The report will include an analysis of the alignment of the statewide strategy with Washington’s target industry and talent-focused initiatives, an assessment of the capacity of relevant partners to aid in its implementation, and a review of the state’s business support infrastructure as it relates to the defense sector.

Once all phases of the grant are completed, the results will provide a framework for sustaining the health and vitality of the state’s defense-reliant economy amid potential budget reductions. Taken together, the statewide strategy and sustainability plan will provide a comprehensive blueprint for military and defense contractors and related support organizations to anticipate and mitigate potential losses through effective planning and strategic decision-making.

TIP has conducted numerous projects funded by OEA, including several aimed at convening stakeholders, diversifying the economy, assisting private businesses, retaining displaced workers, and developing sustainability strategies. We have also worked extensively in military-dependent communities throughout the country, and have direct experience with leveraging and supporting this valuable sector.

Geography of Recovery: Cumulative Job Gains/Losses since December 2007 by Metropolitan Statistical Area

October 1, 2015

By: TIP Staff

When we released the Geography of Jobs in spring 2008, our goal was to visualize the answer to a seemingly simple question: How did the impact of the recession play out across the country? The resulting animated map—which shows the 12-month rolling job change for all US metros from 1999 to the present—was a resounding success. It provides a vivid illustration of the magnitude of pre-recession job growth and the subsequent dramatic job losses. What our approach failed to capture, however, is the recession’s cumulative impact.

In the second quarter of 2014, it was widely reported that the US had “recovered” all the jobs lost since the start of the recession more than six years earlier. But as we traveled across the country, it didn’t take much to see that many areas were still suffering. With our latest map, the Geography of Recovery, we use the same data to explore this issue. As the name suggests, our new data visualization picks up on the question of recovery: How have individual metro areas fared since the start of the recession? Which metros felt the greatest job losses as a percentage of pre-recession employment? Which have yet to recover the jobs they lost? Which areas recovered faster? Were there any that saw minimal negative impact or even emerged unscathed?

How to Read the Map

Unlike the prior map, which illustrates the change in jobs relative to the same period 12 months earlier, the Geography of Recovery compares employment levels in each metro area to the number of jobs reported at the beginning of the economic downturn. To simplify the comparison, the map uses an index to illustrate this relationship. Each metro starts at 100 percent, which represents total employment in December 2007 (the recession’s official start). From that point forward, the size of each metro’s corresponding bubble grows or shrinks based on the percentage of jobs gained or lost relative to the baseline. A red bubble indicates a cumulative job loss; a blue bubble represents cumulative job gains.

Like the original Geography of Jobs, you can hover over each metro bubble and watch the actual percentage change over time. You’ll also notice two animated “dashboard” features on the left of the map that track with the animation’s timeline. The first is a simple percentage, titled “US share of 2007 employment,” which shows the nation’s job change relative to the baseline. The second indicator is a set of bars representing the number of metros above (in blue) or below (in red) December 2007 employment levels.

Revelations on Recovery

The most striking revelation from this visualization is the unevenness of the recovery. By the time the US returned to its December 2007 employment level in May 2014, the majority of metro areas had not recovered. As of July 2015—more than one year later—fully one-third (120) of the more than 300 metro areas analyzed had not yet recovered the number of jobs lost during the recession.

At TIP Strategies, we are always looking for ways to translate data into insights about economic development. We hope you will help us with this task by providing feedback and sharing your insights at the end of this blog post.

Footnote: We recognize the limitations to this approach:


  • It does not account for population change in each metro over time. Because jobs can grow faster or slower than population, the impact of employment change on a metro’s population may not be reflected.

  • We picked Dec 2007 as the starting point, since this was the date that the national recession officially began. But, some metros, such as Detroit, had already experienced significant job losses in the previous 2 years. Detroit was in a recession long before the official national recession began, therefore their bubble does not reflect losses from the time prior to December 2007.

  • Following the 2010 Census, the federal Office of Management and Budget revised the official definitions of a number of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). This once-a-decade overhaul (released in February 2013) resulted in the addition of a number of new metro areas, the change of metro boundaries, as well as the loss of the MSA designation for a number of existing areas. Some added counties, lost counties, or were combined with neighboring metros to form larger MSAs; others lost their designation due to population declines. In implementing these new standards, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics could not produce seasonally adjusted data for all the affected metro areas beginning with its March 2015 release of data from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, the data series used to create the Geography of Recovery. While 69 metro areas without seasonally adjusted data are not included in the animation, we have provided a table [PDF] showing the annual percent change in employment since December 2007 using unadjusted data.


TIP Clients Creating Paths to Prosperity

September 25, 2015

By: Caroline Alexander, Senior Consultant, TIP Strategies


The recent Politico article, “A Real Path to Shared Prosperity in America,” addresses a topic that has been a central concern for many of our clients. The article highlights findings from a conference of thought leaders held this summer at Harvard Business School to explore the critical question: How can our nation continue to grow while also providing a path to prosperity for more Americans?

We, too, have seen our clients bring together coalitions of partners to address this question and to strengthen what Fuller et al. refer to as “the Commons.” Some of our recent clients are actively tackling this problem:


  • The Greater Houston Partnership convened a regional workforce development task force to develop a strategy to address the gap between the region’s middle-skills jobs and the available workers. The resulting initiative—UpSkill Houston—aims to strengthen the regional talent pipeline to bridge this gap.
  • In Fargo, North Dakota, the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce, the Fargo Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, and United Way partnered with the business community to develop a strategy to address their talent shortage. The resulting Regional Workforce Study recognizes the need to build a stronger framework for upward mobility to support workers in low-wage and basic-skill jobs.

  • And in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul region, GREATER MSP, the Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Chambers of Commerce, the Saint Paul Port Authority, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, and the McKnight Foundation have formed a coalition to develop and implement an action strategy to accelerate investment and job creation in the center cities. The Center Cities Action Strategy is currently in the process of being finalized.

Coolest Job Data Visualization You’ll Ever See

October 23, 2014

By: Chris Tomlinson
Via: The Houston Chronicle

Graphic shows how jobs surge and contract across the country

Job data is important to understanding the nation’s economy, but the spreadsheets can be painful to analyze. The economic development consulting firm TIP Strategies, though, has developed a very cool visualization tool to understand how employment surges and contracts over time and geography.

The Greater Houston Partnership recently crowed about adding 600,000 in the first nine months of this year, and that is truly remarkable. But how does this recent boom compare to the last 15 years? When Houston is adding jobs, what is the rest of the country doing?

Hitting the play button, it’s fascinating to watch the pulsing blue circles of added jobs from 1999 to 2002. Dallas and New York added jobs at a much higher rate than Houston. Then a recession hits in 2002 and the whole country begins losing jobs as the dot-com bubble burst. Other parts of the country suffered much more than Houston.

Then in early 2004, Houston lags behind the rest of the nation as the economy takes off elsewhere. This is where you can see how a growing economy demands more energy, and in response, Houston begins adding jobs to meet those needs.

Perhaps most stunning, Hurricane Katrina hits in 2005 and like a bomb, the orange circles of lost jobs explode over New Orleans as thousands of jobs are lost. The number of new jobs in Houston surges as workers flee Louisiana.

Then in 2007, Houston’s job growth begins to lead the rest of the country. The recession hits, and while most U.S. cites, particularly Los Angeles, lays off tens of thoussands of workers each month, Houston continues to add until 2009 when it begins registering losses. The fracking boom takes hold in 2010, and we know the story from there.

The lesson from the data is that Houston has done remarkably well compared to the rest of the country. The reasons are many and debateable. There’s also an intense debate over the quality of those jobs, and the state’s 15.9 percent poverty rate which just dropped to become the same as the national average.

Fundamentally, though, the map is simply very cool, and a reminder of how good Houston has it.

The New And Improved Geography Of Jobs

October 20, 2014

By: Jeff Marcell, Senior Partner and John Karras, Consultant, TIP Strategies


We hope you will take a moment to check out our “new and improved” Geography of Jobs. In our updated version, we’ve included 372 metros* and extended the timeline back to 1999. As in the previous version, each bubble shows the net change in employment in a given metro area compared to the same period one year earlier. The diameter of each bubble reflects the size of the loss or gain. But, unlike the original Geography of Jobs, you can now place your cursor over any of the metros and watch the actual job numbers change over time . If you press the pause button, you can also move your cursor over any metro and compare actual job losses or gains at any point in the timeline. Another “behind the scenes” feature is our ability to map new datasets, such as job change by sector.

At TIP Strategies, we are always looking for ways to translate data into insights about economic development. We hope you will help us with this task by providing feedback and sharing your insights at the end of this blog post.

Map highlights:

  • The Great Recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, but the job losses spanned a longer timeframe, beginning early in 2007 and extending well into 2010. Some regions were hit harder than others, some were hit earlier, and some took longer to recover, but no corner of the US was spared.

  • The Dot-Com Bubble was marked by rapid job growth in some of the country’s leading high-tech regions (Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle, Austin) in 1999 and 2000. You can then see these same regions losing lots of jobs from 2001 to 2003 during the Dot-Com bust and subsequent recession. Silicon Valley actually continued losing jobs into 2004, even while the rest of the country had come out of the recession and was gaining jobs.

  • The Housing Bubble, following the relatively mild recession that began in 2001, led to unprecedented job growth across the country. Buoyed by easy money (i.e., subprime mortgages), housing supported strong job growth in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Southern Florida. You will also see that these same places were the first to begin losing jobs as the housing market collapsed, starting in 2007.

  • Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in late July 2005, a disaster that had an immediate and lingering impact on jobs in the region. However, you will notice that metros in the periphery, most notably Baton Rouge, actually saw a significant uptick in jobs during that time due to temporary (and perhaps permanent for many) outmigration from New Orleans.

  • Watching the Midwestern US, especially the manufacturing-centric states of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, reveals that many of the metro areas in these states never enjoyed the economic growth experienced by most of the country from 2003 to 2006. Red bubbles cover much of the area surrounding Detroit from 2002 all the way until the end of the Great Recession in 2010. However, the employment situation in the Midwest has taken a turn for the better in recent years thanks to the recovery of the US automotive industry beginning in 2010.



We are excited about the upgrades to the Geography of Jobs and hope you find it useful. And we would love to hear from you. Please take a moment to share your comments on how the tool did (or did not) provide any insights about your community, any regional or national trends of significance, and other datasets we should consider mapping.

Thanks for viewing.

*NOTE: Map includes the 372 MSAs for which data are available from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.