When Anna Carson moved to Bainbridge Island from Nashville, she felt it was time to re-enter the workplace. The 41-year-old homemaker with three children, the youngest of whom is in eighth grade, wanted a part-time job with health benefits to supplement her husband’s income from his own business. “I’m in Seattle. I thought, I’m going to see if I can get a job at Starbucks,” Carson says. So last spring, she ferried over and visited a few downtown Starbucks locations. Deploying her considerable Southern charm, she returned several times until she landed an interview. Shortly thereafter, she was offered a spot as a barista—and not just anywhere—at the epicenter, Starbucks 8, on the eighth floor of the international coffee chain’s SoDo headquarters.
These days, plenty of people are coming to Seattle, drawn by our marquee companies and thriving startup culture—and the resulting job opportunities at every level, if not in every industry. While other parts of the country are experiencing either no growth or slow growth, here in Seattle, the job market is bright and sunny, with lots of hiring in the forecast.
Let’s start with the numbers: The national unemployment rate in November was 7 percent, but in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area, unemployment was a full percent lower, according to the most recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, jobs grew 3 percent in our metro area between July 2012 and July 2013, nearly twice the national rate.
For job seekers, there is more good news on the horizon. Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a Moscow, Idaho–based labor market research firm, forecasts a net gain of 107,694 jobs from 2013 to 2017 in our area.
From Starbucks to Zillow to Nordstrom, read our profiles on six recently hired Seattleites.
Also, check out our special report on Seattle's thriving food service sector, plus freelance writer Randy Woods' account of the perils and pleasures of working off-site.
THE HOMETOWN HEAVIES
So then, who is hiring in Seattle? The answer, according to recruiters and human resources personnel, is just about everyone, with the usual suspects leading the pack. Amazon, Microsoft, the University of Washington and Starbucks had the most openings listed on company websites and job boards at the end of 2013, while Nordstrom, Swedish Medical Center and Expedia were also strongly represented.
The king of hiring has to be Amazon. Late last year, Amazon made headlines when it surpassed 100,000 employees company-wide, eclipsing local tech giant Microsoft. At the same time, the company announced plans to hire 70,000 seasonal employees, mostly in its warehouses around the country. Locally, Amazon reportedly has 15,000 employees. A recent article in The New York Times estimates that once it completes building its headquarters in South Lake Union, Jeff Bezos’ empire will have the capacity for close to double that number. In December, Amazon advertised nearly 3,000 openings in the area.
“Amazon’s needs tend to be site merchandisers, program managers and buying assistants,” says Sean Horan, president and founder of H10 Capital, an executive search and professional recruitment firm headquartered in Seattle.
Meanwhile, across the lake at Microsoft, which announced a major reorganization last summer, rumors of layoffs go hand in hand with active recruiting. At the end of 2013, more than 4,700 openings were posted in the Redmond-Bellevue-Seattle area. A recent push for Windows Azure, the company’s cloud platform, included hiring events both on and off the company’s Redmond campus, mainly centered on finding software engineers. While software may be the first thing job seekers think of when they hear the name Microsoft, the company does have a need for hardware and mechanical engineers thanks to divisions such as Xbox, Surface and the recently acquired Nokia, which manufactures its Windows Phone.
Opportunities also abound at local retail giant Nordstrom, especially for those job seekers who pair a strong interest in fashion with tech smarts. “Our customers’ definition of service is changing, so we’re always looking for ways to innovate and adapt in order to provide great service on their terms,” says Mary Porter, director of recruiting for Nordstrom. “Technology plays a big role here, and we’re using it to put new tools and resources directly into the hands of our people. For example, many of our salespeople now use mobile devices and mobile checkout so they can ring customers up anywhere in the store. Also, as our customers increasingly shift to shopping online, the importance of our Nordstrom Direct business, including Nordstrom.com, has continued to grow.” In addition, Nordstrom is expanding Rack stores and opening its first-ever stores in Canada next year, which offer job opportunities with this local company outside the region.
Bellevue-based travel booking website Expedia, which includes Hotels.com, Hotwire.com and CarRentals.com under its umbrella of global brands, has more than 100 openings in everything from content and analytics to search-engine optimization (SEO) development. “We’re always on the hunt for people passionate about mobile technology, international markets and the travel industry as a whole,” says Melinda Morrison, senior director of engagement at Expedia. The company is also looking to fill a substantial number of sales and marketing roles.
As the giant baby boomer generation ages, health care continues to be an area of job growth—as true in Seattle as around the country. For Swedish and UW Medical Center, nursing and nursing support, as well as pharmacists and physical, occupational and speech therapists, are a constant need. “Almost half of our hires are registered nurses for the many departments and specialties we have,” says Samson Blackwell, director of Talent Acquisition at Swedish. “Nursing will continue to be a top job for us for many years to come.”
What’s true for Swedish and UW Medicine is true for most hospitals and medical centers in the area. For example, MultiCare in the South Sound region added 1,800 employees last year.
With an eye on the effects of the Affordable Care Act and efforts to reform health care, Blackwell also predicts growth in clinic-based roles, such as medical assistants, patient service representatives, case managers and others.
Modernization and reform are also driving opportunities for information technology professionals within health care. “We are always looking to bring experienced software and Web developers, data managers, analysts, project managers and network engineers to the UW,” says Kimberly Mishra, marketing and communications director, UW Human Resources. “UW Medicine has unique needs for IT professionals with experience working with enterprise health care projects.”
Swedish’s Blackwell adds, “The growing need for health-related data, and for ways to store, access and analyze the information, will increase the need for IT professionals as well. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see. Since health care reform is so new, the recruiting landscape is going to be very dynamic for the next few years.”
And then there is our still-dominant aerospace industry. In the past, Boeing has been a big player in the region’s job opportunity mix, with a famously boom-bust impact. Today, the role is anything but straightforward. While aerospace product and parts manufacturing companies employed more than 95,000 workers in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area in 2013, last year, Boeing shed nearly 4,000 Washington state jobs. And the future of the aerospace behemoth’s jobs in Washington state is made murkier by the leadership of International Association of Machinists (IAM), which in November voted down Boeing’s offer for an eight-year contract to build the 777X jetliner. At press time, Boeing was actively looking into other options for building its latest and largest jetliner, as the union rank and file sought the chance to vote on Boeing’s latest offer.
Everything in its way revolves around tech here. The two fastest growing driver industries in the Seattle metro’s economy are electronic shopping and mail-order houses (of which Amazon accounts for a major chunk) and information services (hello, Microsoft), which grew 79 percent and 44 percent respectively from 2010 through 2013, according to EMSI. In that same period, the number of people working as software engineers rose 14 percent.
This critical mass of tech talent in turn draws employers from elsewhere. Well-known Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Ebay have all set up, and, in some cases, expanded, local operations to scoop up the local talent. The fact that Google, Facebook and Twitter were recently ranked by Glassdoor among the top 10 large companies to work for—unlike Microsoft and Amazon—gives their recruiting efforts a boost. In 2014, Twitter will open 16,000 square feet of new space at Century Square in downtown Seattle, according to a spokesperson, who added that while there may be only a handful of software engineer positions in Seattle posted on Twitter’s website at the end of 2013, the number of jobs will soon grow.
In its Fremont and Kirkland locations, Google is specifically looking for developers with skills in Apple (iOS) and Android systems, as well as engineers focused on distributed systems, machine learning, front-end engineering and website reliability. In addition, the company is doubling the size of its Kirkland facility and possibly its staff, which has been reported to be about 1,000 last year. Facebook is still quite small, employing about 170 people in its South Lake Union offices, most of whom are software engineers and mobile app developers.
Gaming’s presence in the area has prompted local tech-watch website Geekwire to declare Seattle the gaming industry’s epicenter. There are 16,500 employees working at nearly 300 game companies that call the Seattle area home, including Valve, Nintendo of America, Microsoft, 343 Industries, Big Fish, PopCap, Bungie and WildTangent. In fact, Boston-based Northeastern University, which recently set up a graduate school near Amazon’s offices in South Lake Union, will soon introduce a game design program there.
Other smaller but growing companies that occupy the tech space are making Seattle their home, and hiring. Zulily, the daily-deal site for moms that went public last November and is headquartered in Seattle, is a name that consistently comes up when talking to recruiters, as do real estate sites Zillow (the second fastest growing public company in the state) and Redfin, online stock photography site Getty Images, and Tableau Software, a business data software company.
During a recent Geekwire event, Tableau CEO Christian Chabot said, “Moving the company from Silicon Valley to Seattle turned out to be the best decision we ever made.”
Beyond software designers, tech jobs that continue to be plentiful include user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)—the folks who make technology usable for non-geeks. While the mobile space is still hot, with a continuing need for mobile app developers, gesture devices—think of the Xbox Kinect game console, which operates by detecting movement with a sensor rather than with a remote controller—are a growing niche. “Gesture devices are on the rise,” says Kim Obbink, president of Filter Digital, a West Coast consulting and staffing agency based in Seattle. And it’s not just for the gaming industry, but also across the board, based on increased consumer expectations for experiential shopping. “We see a lot of people with website skills who moved into mobile, who have now moved to synchronized experiences on multiple devices and are now moving into all kinds of gesture-based experiences.”
The tech industry is also creating needs that bleed into other areas. You can’t have a digital user experience without its complementing content. “We’re seeing a lot of need for content creators like bloggers, content developers, content managers, social media coordinators and technical writers,” Obbink adds. “People are consuming content faster than ever before.”
Beyond the world of tech for tech’s sake are myriad jobs in biotech and life sciences, including positions such as lab assistants, clinical researchers and medical technicians. “Some of the hot spots are in South Lake Union, as evidenced by the buildup of life science companies there,” says Lisa Y. Hall, communications specialist at the University of Washington Bothell. “Bothell, where the [Biomedical Manufacturing Innovation Zone] is located, accounts for 80 percent of the state’s biomedical device industry revenue, and in Redmond, there is a new innovation partnership zone around interactive media.” So it’s not just Seattle proper that’s experiencing life-science-related job growth.
Are there job opportunities beyond tech in Seattle? Happily, the rising tide is lifting many boats. As the economy becomes stronger, operational positions such as human resources and accounting are opening up. “More employers are looking again to fill nonessential positions like HR and accounting—accounts payable, accounts receivable, etc.—that were affected by the recession,” says Stephanie Beck-Tauscher, manager of recruiting and temporary HR staffing for Resourceful HR, which focuses on finding staff for small- to medium-size companies. “Many companies that were doing without are now realizing that they need to fill those roles.”
Sandeep Krishnamurthy, dean of the UW Bothell School of Business, says “We’re clearly seeing some areas of demand, and accounting is one of them.” Additionally, as companies get a good handle on how to best use all the information they can now collect and analyze thanks to technology, jobs that use these skills are increasing. “Other jobs in the business space that are in high demand include cybersecurity, big data and analytics,” he adds.
In the vein of business analytics and project management, Loft 9, a small yet growing company based in Bellevue, is one that job seekers should keep on their radar. It has been consistently cited by local business websites and publications as one to watch for its fast growth. While Loft 9 is very selective in its hiring, the company’s headcount has more than doubled each year over the past three years to a 2013 total of 65 employees.
Not everyone is hunting for an all-in gig—and Seattle’s market accommodates many consultants and freelancers who prize the perks of independence over the perks of full-time employment. They are part of a national trend. During the past few years, economists and labor experts have tracked the steady increase in temporary, contract workers, freelancers and consultants. In a recent story, Fox News estimated that these soloists number about 17 million, or 12 percent of those in the workforce. The growth stems, at least in part, from companies trying to hedge in a time of economic uncertainty and also avoid the requirements of providing health care coverage to full-time employees.
In Seattle, with its high concentration of IT jobs, for which contracting is the norm, those numbers are probably higher. According to Computer Economics, the percentage of contract workers on IT staffs reached 17 percent in 2012 and 15 percent in 2013 in large organizations—the highest level of contractors since the late 1990s.
Microsoft and, increasingly, Amazon are among the many companies in the area that use contract workers. However, more and more companies, including Expedia, T-Mobile and Alaska Airlines hire contractors for a variety of roles, from technical writers to product testers.
Contract positions are typically short term, in the range of three to 12 months, although extensions are common and assigned by the agency hiring out individuals for organizations. The agency pays the employee, with some offering benefits that include health care, retirement plans and tuition reimbursement.
Recruiters tout contract work as a good way to test the waters with a company to see if it aligns with a job seeker’s career goals and has a corporate culture that he or she finds compatible. “I would tell someone who is new to the Seattle job market to sign up with a staffing company that focuses on their niche,” says Obbink of Filter Digital. “That way, they can find out where the jobs are and learn about the companies before they make a selection.”
In some cases, contract jobs are a stepping-stone to full employment. Former Seattleite Nicole Peterson, who did contract work as a project manager for a large software company for more than five years, says she could have gone full-time, but didn’t want to. “I preferred being a contractor and managed to avoid the requests to join—or in my case, go back—to the company as an employee,” Peterson says. “As a contractor, I liked that my role was very clearly defined and I could focus just on doing the job. I didn’t have to spend much time dealing with internal politics or any kind of review system. It was really nice to just be able to put my head down and go.”
The takeaway: In hot fields, such as tech and health care, Seattle is a job seeker’s city—where there are plenty of opportunities to hop a ride on a corporate rocket or build your own.
Where the Jobs Aren’t
There may be opportunities aplenty in tech, health care and online retail these days but not every sector is expanding in Seattle.
Airplane design and construction
In 2013, nearly 4,000 Boeing employees in the state were laid off or took early retirement, in what was called a “silver tsunami.” Plus, the limbo over the current union negotiations for the 777X has thousands of workers uncertain about the future.
This year saw the continuation of layoffs in newsrooms, from the recently acquired KOMO to Everett’s Daily Herald.
Federal workers and anyone with government-funded work or contracts were squeezed in 2013 by the temporary
government shut down and the ongoing sequester including nuclear reservation contractors in Hanford, NIH-funded scientists and glove-makers for the military.
While the jobs picture in the residential home construction sector is improving, construction is still way below 2008. By LISA WOGAN