Ron Davoli experienced an anomaly in 2020 that seemed to elude many other industries.

The CEO and president of Sanford-based construction firm Wharton-Smith Inc. maintained jobs at his company during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, as hard-hit industries like tourism and hospitality shed workers due to restricted travel, Davoli’s company experienced just the opposite, he said.

“No one feels great about making gains off the misfortune of others, but we are happy that we have been able to re-employ some folks who lost their positions due to the pandemic."

Hope is on the horizon for many businesses as Covid-19 vaccines begin to be distributed. However, there still is some uncertainty on how quickly the local economy will recover this year. Most experts agreed that Central Florida’s economic juggernaut — the $75 billion tourism industry — likely won’t begin its recovery until the vaccine is distributed widely enough to safely expand travel, including the end of international travel restrictions.

Not surprisingly, the tourism industry has been the biggest job loss leader in town. The metro Orlando sector was down 84,700 jobs year-over-year to 192,800 workers, as of November, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. That’s a 30.7% difference when compared with November 2019’s 277,500 workers.

Prior to the pandemic-driven layoffs, a number of those jobs made up the largest workforce sector in Orlando. And they have yet to return. The challenge now is to see which jobs will return in 2021, how to meet the needs of those whose losses linger and how long it’s going to take for additional jobs to come back.

Some organizations, like CareerSource Central Florida, have stepped up in trying to get people employment. Through its Help is Here program, the nonprofit used federal funds to provide short-term job training, paid internships and career counseling to roughly 4,000 people in the region through the end of 2020.

That’s important work, since the employment and services gap needs to be filled for those whose jobs may not immediately return, said Eric Ushkowitz, economic development administrator for Orange County, which directed federal funds to the CareerSource program. “How you take care of those people in the meantime is among our biggest challenges.”

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But make no mistake: 2021 won’t just be the story of how quickly tourism returns. It also will provide a look at which industries are growing.

For example, construction is expected to grow to 91,800 workers this year, up from 89,500 in 2020, according to projections by the UCF Institute for Economic Forecasting. That, in turn, means there may be an opportunity to bring some displaced workers into these growing sectors — if training opportunities are accessible.

“Much of the workforce may not be able to wait on an industry rebound and will need to redirect their careers to industries that have remained strong,” Davoli said. “This realignment will require retraining and education.”

So which jobs will be in demand in 2021? In this special report, the Orlando Business Journal looked at five of the hottest jobs and five not-so-hot jobs. We also dive into the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s projections on long-term growth in the five-county area of Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, and Sumter counties, as well as short-term analysis from economic and industry experts.


JOBS INCREASING IN DEMAND IN 2021

These jobs are expected to grow employment in the new year, regardless of long-term growth projections:

Warehouse-distribution worker

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 21,097
  • Projected employment, 2028: 23,316

"[In] transportation warehouse logistics, in particular, there are many jobs available. We’ve seen announcements from UPS, Amazon, and so forth hiring by the thousands. Those jobs definitely are out there."

Pam Nabors, president/CEO, Career Source Central Florida

Construction workers

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 16,768
  • Projected employment, 2028: 19,720

"While hope is on the horizon, with vaccines beginning to be administered by At the end of summer, some industries — like construction and medicine — will maintain their momentum and grow. Unfortunately, employees who have been reliant on jobs in the hospitality, tourism, and entertainment industries in Central Florida will continue to be the hardest hit."

Ron Davoli, president, and CEO, Wharton-Smith Inc.

Nurses

  • Total estimated employment, 2020 (registered nurses): 21,359
  • Projected employment 2028: 25,129

"Covid-19 enabled us to recognize where our many strengths lie and brought us to the forefront of the need for growth, particularly when it comes to workforce and workforce development in our health care space. We learned that our health care heroes and the workforce deserve more than just a paycheck. They need to feel they are safe, appreciated and that their health and safety matters."

Babette Hankey, president/CEO, Aspire Health Partners

Network support-cyber security specialists

  • Total estimated employment, 2020: 1,288
  • Projected employment, 2028: 1,732

"As more people are working from home, especially depending on your industry, there’s a lot of security risk whether you are going through VPN or other aspects. We have some expertise at UCF and in the community that might be an opportunity. Being able to look at future opportunities and taking some existing technology and applying it to that, that’s where we have an opportunity to speed ahead or advance ourselves out of the recession a little faster than some other communities."

Eric Ushkowitz, economic development administrator, Orange County

Truck drivers

  • Total estimated employment, 2020: 13,864
  • Projected employment, 2028: 15,971

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on many parts of the economy and trucking is no exception. However, despite significant contractions in 2020, the forecast makes it clear that the long-term the trend for trucking, as well as for the overall freight economy is positive.”

Bob Costello, chief economist, American Trucking Associations


JOBS DECREASING IN DEMAND IN 2021

Though jobs in these categories may be forecast to grow in the future, the sectors likely will face challenges to projected short-term employment growth in 2021. And it's unclear what will happen thereafter.

Banquet servers (dining room and cafeteria attendants, and bartender helpers)

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 9,682
  • Projected employment, 2028: 14,005

"Those people drop out of the labor force because there is nothing to find. It’s not that you lost your job at Joe's bar and maybe go down to Pablo's pub — there was nothing to be had. Some of that suppressed labor force participation is tied to a unique recession."

Sean Snaith, executive director, UCF Institute for Economic Forecasting

Restaurant servers

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 33,001
  • Projected employment, 2028: 42,820

"From a business perspective, I don’t think any can expect — even when the pandemic is over — that it will be the same as before. Customer expectations are different, especially from an automation standpoint. If you’re a restaurant and you have a heavy take-out business, if you don’t have an online system that’s easy to navigate, you’re going to struggle compared to other restaurants."

Eric Ushkowitz, economic development administrator, Orange County

Cashiers

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 29,325
  • Projected employment, 2028: 31,196

"What I worry about is just the thousands of jobs related to housekeeping, retail and restaurants. There are thousands of people who have been impacted, and I don’t know if there are enough jobs in recovery to take the volume."

Pam Nabors, president/CEO, Career Source Central Florida

Housekeepers

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 16,959
  • Projected employment, 2028: 22,189

"As the visitors return and conventions start to happen again, will hotels hire back the same number of housekeepers as pre-pandemic? If you traveled at all during the pandemic, hotels are not doing daily service to your room. I could see that continuing after the vaccine is distributed and the pandemic is over, as a cost-saving measure."

Sean Snaith, executive director, UCF Institute for Economic Forecasting

Business event planners

  • Estimated employment, 2020: 2,416
  • Projected employment, 2028: 3,021

“We have learned that virtual and hybrid meetings support face-to-face meetings — they do not replace them. Virtual and hybrid meetings have kept the community engaged.”

Mark Tester, director, Orange County Convention Center


Soundbites

As part of OBJ's Dec. 3, 2020, economic forecast roundtable, panelists spoke about a number of factors they will be watching this year. Here are some of the trends they are monitoring in the new year:

Housing

"The one big difference between this recession and the last one is the housing market. That was a huge albatross around Florida’s recovery in 2008-2009. Housing, aside from those couple of months of lockdown, has just continued. The problem in the housing sector is the same one we had pre-pandemic, which is there is not enough. Inventories are depleted in the state, and that is driving up prices. Affordability is an increasing problem, so there is a need to ramp up construction and facilitate that at the state and local level to mitigate price increases."

Sean Snaith, executive director, UCF Institute for Economic Forecasting

Local job placement

"We are watching job posting rates, to see what is out there. While our number of customers is roughly 32% more than we were last year, our job placement rate is about 30% less. We continue to look at labor force participation and concerns about whether or not people go back to work. ... We serve a lot of parents who are handling children at home. Our labor force participation rate was coming back, even though it wasn’t where it was pre-2008. It is about 58% as of September, so there are a lot of people who were attached to the workforce who are choosing not to look right now."

Pam Nabors, president/CEO, CareerSource Central Florida

Tourism

"Travel is another indicator. You take a look at what is happening with individuals in airports in Florida, because we are connected to the global economy. The ability of people to come to the state is a key indicator to me of the recovery post-pandemic."

Tony Villamil, founder/senior advisor, Washington Economics Group

Consumer spending

"What I've been watching — and am pleased with what I am seeing — is how the consumer is behaving. That is roughly 72% of our economy, so if the spike in consumer spending carries forward from the third quarter into next year, that will be very important."

Sean Snaith, executive director, UCF Institute for Economic Forecasting