Top Occupations Employers Were Hiring in 2020: Changes in a Pandemic Year

by Jessica Nelson

March 9, 2021

The total estimate of job vacancies at any given time in 2020 dropped 22% from the level in 2019, as the pandemic shuttered businesses and stalled hiring, especially in the spring at the onset of business restrictions. Still, employers were hiring for a wide variety of jobs in 2020; they reported vacancies across 357 different occupations.

Throughout the year, the Oregon Employment Department surveys private employers with two or more employees from all industries and areas of the state to ask about job vacancies they are actively trying to fill. For each vacancy, the employer provides the job title, starting wage, and education and experience requirements for the job. Anna Johnson’s recent article details the Characteristics of Job Vacancies in 2020, which were largely consistent with characteristics of job vacancies in prior years, despite the pandemic recession.

Job Titles with the Most Hiring Activity

Occupations with the highest number of job vacancies in 2020 reflected the necessity of jobs that relate to the pandemic and the changing business practices associated with it. They included heavy truck drivers (1,800); nursing assistants (1,400); personal care aides (1,400); retail salespersons (1,300); stockers and order fillers (1,100); production workers (1,000); fast food and counter workers (1,000); and cashiers (1,000).
While overall hiring demand dropped in 2020, most job vacancies continued to be for full-time, permanent jobs. The only top occupation hiring for mostly part-time jobs was fast food and counter workers, with just 11% of vacancies reported as full-time openings. Among retail salesperson vacancies, two out of three were full-time. Employers were looking to permanently fill jobs with remarkable consistency – among most occupations nine out of 10 openings were permanent. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers had the lowest share of permanent jobs among these top occupations, at 78%.

For about half of 2020 job vacancies, employers reported they had difficulty filling the job. Employers seemed to experience more difficulty in 2020 when hiring for jobs that require a particular type of training beyond high school, like for truck drivers and nursing assistants. Employers didn’t have much difficulty filling the many jobs that opened up to stock store shelves and fill orders, and to serve customers in fast food establishments.

Pandemic Hiring Activity by Broad Category

The detailed occupations in the first table, those with more than 500 vacancies in 2020, accounted for just 40% of all vacancies reported. Vacancies were reported in a total of 357 occupations over the course of the year. Summing these openings up by broad occupation group gives us a more thorough sense of the hiring happening in 2020 and some of the differences from 2019, when the economy was reaching the end of a long period of expansion.

Almost all occupation groups had fewer job vacancies in 2020 than in 2019. Even for those occupation groups with the most hiring activity in 2020, openings had fallen from the level the prior year. Transportation and material moving jobs held up pretty well, dropping just 15% in 2020 and supplying the most hiring of any occupation group. Health care support openings numbered 17% fewer in 2020 overall. After dropping a lot in the spring as nonessential appointments and services were postponed, health care support vacancies rebounded to 2019 levels by fall 2020.
Large over-the-year declines in openings occurred in several occupation groups whose trends were directly affected by the pandemic. Food prep and serving jobs had the second highest level of openings in 2020, but had 30% fewer openings than in 2019, dropping quite a bit in the spring before increased hiring in the summer and fall. Sales and related jobs fell by 34%, as lasting capacity restrictions reduced demand for workers through the spring and summer quarters. Installation, maintenance, and repair openings dropped 40%, with low levels of vacancies in the first half of the year. The group saw favorable growth in the last half of the year as businesses rebooted under changing guidelines and stuck-in-place residents worked on their homes and properties. Openings in education, training, and library occupations dropped by half in 2020 as schools and libraries closed to in-person activities.

A few broad occupation groups saw more hiring in 2020 than in 2019. Building and grounds cleaning occupations had 22% more openings as cleaning and business services routines changed with pandemic requirements. Production, and personal care and service jobs also had slightly more vacancies than in 2019.

Employers faced a lot of challenges in 2020. The Oregon economy moved from full employment at the beginning of the year, to a deep recession in the spring, and through a partial recovery in the second half of the year. Many more lost jobs remain to be recovered, and the pandemic recession has continued into the start of 2021. Through closures, capacity restrictions, increased work at home, and all the uncertainties the pandemic has wrought, employers continued to hire for a wide range of jobs throughout 2020. As the economy recovers, the mix of job openings might change with a return to a more typical business climate, but the characteristics of Oregon job vacancies have remained consistent despite economic turbulence.


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