Top Occupations Employers Were Hiring in 2021

by Jessica Nelson

February 23, 2022

The total estimate of Oregon job vacancies hit a record level of about 97,000 in 2021, after dropping 22% in 2020 as the pandemic shuttered businesses and stalled hiring. In 2021, the number of job vacancies was 69% above the level in 2019, at the end of a long economic expansion and just before the onset of the pandemic. Amid the rapid job recovery that took place in 2021, employers were hiring for a wide variety of jobs; they reported vacancies across 432 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. Details about the record volume of vacancies are available in Oregon Job Vacancies: Hiring in 2021 Outpaced Hiring Prior to the Pandemic.  

Job Titles with the Most Hiring Activity

Occupations with the highest number of job vacancies in 2021 reflected conditions of the rapid job recovery, including a diminished supply of workers as the year went on and businesses attempted to fully reopen following pandemic restrictions. Hiring for the health care sector surged, as it continued to face the constraints and stresses of providing care in an ongoing pandemic. Increased turnover and competition for workers across the economy drove demand for particular occupations. Occupations with the most openings in 2021 included retail salespersons (4,900); personal care aides (4,700); heavy truck drivers (3,000); restaurant cooks (2,700); nursing assistants (2,500); maids and housekeeping cleaners (2,500); and registered nurses (2,100).
While overall hiring demand expanded in 2021, most job vacancies continued to be for full-time, permanent jobs. Among retail salesperson vacancies, about two out of three were full-time. In most of the other top occupations, at least seven out of 10 openings were full-time. Jobs more likely to be part-time included maids and housekeeping cleaners, fast food and counter workers, cashiers, and waiters and waitresses. Employers were looking to permanently fill jobs with remarkable consistency – among most occupations nine out of 10 openings were permanent. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers (66%) and farmworkers and laborers (41%) had the lowest shares of permanent jobs among these top occupations.

More jobs stayed open for an extended period in 2021. About one out of three 2021 vacancies had been open for 60 days or longer when they were reported to the survey. In 2019, one out of six vacancies had been open for 60 days or longer. Among occupations with more than 1,000 vacancies in 2021, those with the highest shares open 60 or more days included automotive service techs and mechanics (52%), production workers (49%), maids and housekeeping cleaners (48%), carpenters (48%), and dental assistants (41%).

Employers had more difficulty filling open positions in 2021, with 72% of Oregon job vacancies reported as difficult to fill. Prior to and during the pandemic, closer to half of vacancies were reported as difficult to fill. Employers seemed to experience more difficulty in 2021 when hiring for jobs that require a particular type of training beyond high school, like for many health care jobs, truck drivers, and construction jobs. Employers didn’t have as much difficulty filling the many jobs that opened up in retail, customer service, stocking store shelves and filling 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 1,000 vacancies in 2021, accounted for 46% of all vacancies reported. Vacancies were reported in a total of 432 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 2021 and some of the differences from 2019, when the economy was reaching the end of a long period of expansion.
Food preparation and serving occupations, health care support, and transportation and material moving had the largest numbers of vacancies in 2021. A total of nine occupation groups had more than 5,000 vacancies apiece at any given time in 2021, up from three groups in 2019 experiencing that volume of hiring.

Almost all occupation groups had more job vacancies in 2021 than in 2019. In total, the number of job vacancies in 2021 was 69% above the level in 2019. Job openings more than doubled from the 2019 level in production occupations; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; health care support; construction and extraction; community and social service; and farming, fishing, and forestry.

Two occupation groups had fewer vacancies than in 2019, and both were down by relatively small margins. Management openings numbered 18% fewer in 2021, and private protective service jobs were down 36%.

Employers faced a lot of challenges throughout the pandemic. The roller-coaster has included pandemic restrictions and supply chain issues, changing business practices and consumption patterns, the real risks of the virus, and a tighter than anticipated labor supply as the pandemic continued. The Oregon economy moved from full employment in 2019, to a deep recession and partial recovery in 2020, to a race to hire in 2021. As we move forward, 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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