December 2018 Jobs Report and Industry Update


Economics & Job Creation:


Life Sciences:
“Sensors developed to detect and measure cancer’s ability to spread”

“It’s not a shock: Better bandage promotes powerful healing”

“A new approach to studying the flu”

The Industrials:
“Guiding the smart growth of artificial intelligence”

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Economics & Job Creation:


Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 155,000 in November, and the unemployment rate
remained unchanged at 3.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job
gains occurred in health care, in manufacturing, and in transportation and warehousing.

Household Survey Data

In November, the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent for the third month in a row, and the
number of unemployed persons was little changed at 6.0 million. Over the year, the
unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons declined by 0.4 percentage point
and 641,000, respectively. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.3 percent),
adult women (3.4 percent), teenagers (12.0 percent), Whites (3.4 percent), Blacks
(5.9 percent), Asians (2.7 percent), and Hispanics (4.5 percent) showed little or no
change in November. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by
120,000 to 1.3 million in November. These individuals accounted for 20.8 percent of the
unemployed. (See table A-12.)

Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.9 percent, and the employment-population
ratio, at 60.6 percent, were unchanged in November. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as
involuntary part-time workers), at 4.8 million, changed little in November. These
individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time
because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.
(See table A-8.)

In November, 1.7 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, an increase
of 197,000 from a year earlier. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals
were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a
job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they
had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

Among the marginally attached, there were 453,000 discouraged workers in November, essentially
unchanged from a year earlier. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are
persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for
them. The remaining 1.2 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in November
had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.
(See table A-16.)

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 155,000 in November, compared with an
average monthly gain of 209,000 over the prior 12 months. In November, job gains occurred
in health care, in manufacturing, and in transportation and warehousing. (See table B-1.)

Health care employment rose by 32,000 in November. Within the industry, job gains occurred
in ambulatory health care services (+19,000) and hospitals (+13,000). Over the year, health
care has added 328,000 jobs.

In November, manufacturing added 27,000 jobs, with increases in chemicals (+6,000) and
primary metals (+3,000). Manufacturing employment has increased by 288,000 over the year,
largely in durable goods industries.

Employment in transportation and warehousing rose by 25,000 in November. Job gains occurred
in couriers and messengers (+10,000) and in warehousing and storage (+6,000). Over the year,
transportation and warehousing has added 192,000 jobs.

In November, employment in professional and business services continued on an upward trend
(+32,000). The industry has added 561,000 jobs over the year.

Retail trade employment changed little in November (+18,000). Job growth occurred in general
merchandise stores (+39,000) and miscellaneous store retailers (+10,000). These gains were
offset, in part, by declines in clothing and clothing accessories stores (-14,000);
electronics and appliance stores(-11,000); and sporting goods, hobby, and book stores (-11,000).

Employment in other major industries–including mining, construction, wholesale trade,
information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government–showed little
change over the month.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased by 0.1 hour to
34.4 hours in November. In manufacturing, both the workweek and overtime were unchanged
(40.8 hours and 3.5 hours, respectively). The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory
employees on private nonfarm payrolls held at 33.7 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)

In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 6
cents to $27.35. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 81 cents, or 3.1
percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees
increased by 7 cents to $22.95 in November. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised down from +250,000 to
+237,000, and the change for September was revised up from +118,000 to +119,000. With these
revisions, employment gains in September and October combined were 12,000 less than previously
reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and
government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal
factors.) After revisions, job gains have averaged 170,000 per month over the last 3 months.


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Life Sciences:

“Sensors developed to detect and measure cancer’s ability to spread”

The spread of invasive cancer cells from a tumor’s original site to distant parts of the body is known as metastasis. It is the leading cause of death in people with cancer. In a paper published online in iScience, University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers reported engineering sensors that can detect and measure the metastatic potential of single cancer cells.

“Cancer would not be so devastating if it did not metastasize,” said Pradipta Ghosh, MD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the Center for Network Medicine and senior study author.

“Although there are many ways to detect metastasis once it has occurred, there has been nothing available to ‘see’ or ‘measure’ the potential of a tumor cell to metastasize in the future. So at the Center for Network Medicine, we tackled this challenge by engineering biosensors designed to monitor not one, not two, but multiple signaling programs that drive tumor metastasis; upon sensing those signals a fluorescent signal would be turned on only when tumor cells acquired high potential to metastasize, and therefore turn deadly.”

Cancer cells alter normal cell communications by hijacking one of many signaling pathways to permit metastasis to occur. As the tumor cells adapt to the environment or cancer treatment, predicting which pathway will be used becomes difficult. By comparing proteins and protein modifications in normal versus all cancer tissues, Ghosh and colleagues identified a particular protein and its unique modification called tyrosine-phosphorylated CCDC88A (GIV/Girdin) that are only present in solid tumor cells. Comparative analyses indicated that this modification could represent a point of convergence of multiple signaling pathways commonly hijacked by tumor cells during metastasis.

The team used novel engineered biosensors and sophisticated microscopes to monitor the modification on GIV and found that, indeed, fluorescent signals reflected a tumor cell’s metastatic tendency. They were then able to measure the metastatic potential of single cancer cells and account for the unknowns of an evolving tumor biology through this activity. The result was the development of Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) biosensors.

Although highly aggressive and adaptive, very few cancer cells metastasize and that metastatic potential comes and goes, said Ghosh. If metastasis can be predicted, this data could be used to personalize treatment to individual patients. For example, patients whose cancer is not predicted to metastasize or whose disease could be excised surgically might be spared from highly toxic therapies, said Ghosh. Patients whose cancer is predicted to spread aggressively might be treated with precision medicine to target the metastatic cells.

“It’s like looking at a Magic 8 Ball, but with a proper yardstick to measure the immeasurable and predict outcomes,” said Ghosh. “We have the potential not only to obtain information on single cell level, but also to see the plasticity of the process occurring in a single cell. This kind of imaging can be used when we are delivering treatment to see how individual cells are responding.”

The sensors need further refinement, wrote the authors, but have the potential to be a transformative advance for cancer cell biology.


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“It’s not a shock: Better bandage promotes powerful healing”

A new, low-cost wound dressing developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers could dramatically speed up healing in a surprising way. The method leverages energy generated from a patient’s own body motions to apply gentle electrical pulses at the site of an injury. In rodent tests, the dressings reduced healing times to a mere three days compared to nearly two weeks for the normal healing process.

“We were surprised to see such a fast recovery rate,” says Xudong Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison. “We suspected that the devices would produce some effect, but the magnitude was much more than we expected.”Wang and collaborators described their wound dressing method today (Nov. 29, 2018) in the journal ACS Nano.

Researchers have known for several decades that electricity can be beneficial for skin healing, but most electrotherapy units in use today require bulky electrical equipment and complicated wiring to deliver powerful jolts of electricity.

“Acute and chronic wounds represent a substantial burden in healthcare worldwide,” says collaborator Angela Gibson, professor of surgery at UW-Madison and a burn surgeon and director of wound healing services at UW Health. “The use of electrical stimulation in wound healing is uncommon.”In contrast with existing methods, the new dressing is much more straightforward. “Our device is as convenient as a bandage you put on your skin,” says Wang.

The new dressings consist of small electrodes for the injury site that are linked to a band holding energy-harvesting units called nanogenerators, which are looped around a wearer’s torso. The natural expansion and contraction of the wearer’s ribcage during breathing powers the nanogenerators, which deliver low-intensity electric pulses.

“The nature of these electrical pulses is similar to the way the body generates an internal electric field,” says Wang.And, those low-power pulses won’t harm healthy tissue like traditional, high-power electrotherapy devices might. In fact, the researchers showed that exposing cells to high-energy electrical pulses caused them to produce almost five times more reactive oxygen species — major risk factors for cancer and cellular aging — than did cells that were exposed to the nanogenerators.

Also a boon to healing: They determined that the low-power pulses boosted viability for a type of skin cell called fibroblasts, and exposure to the nanogenerator’s pulses encouraged fibroblasts to line up (a crucial step in wound healing) and produce more biochemical substances that promote tissue growth.

“These findings are very exciting,” says collaborator Weibo Cai, a professor of radiology at UW-Madison. “The detailed mechanisms will still need to be elucidated in future work.”

In that vein, the researchers aim to tease out precisely how the gentle pulses aid in healing. The scientists also plan to test the devices on pig skin, which closely mimics human tissue. They are working to give the nanogenerators additional capabilities — tweaking their structure to allow for energy harvesting from small imperceptible twitches in the skin or the thrumming pulse of a heartbeat.

“The impressive results in this study represent an exciting new spin on electrical stimulation for many different wound types, given the simplicity of the design,” says Gibson, who will collaborate with the team to confirm the reproducibility of these results in human skin models. If the team is successful, the devices could help solve a major challenge for modern medicine.

“We think our nanogenerator could be the most effective electrical stimulation approach for many therapeutic purposes,” says Wang. And because the nanogenerators consist of relatively common materials, price won’t be an issue. “I don’t think the cost will be much more than a regular bandage,” says Wang. “The device in itself is very simple and convenient to fabricate.”

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01EB021336 and P30CA014520).


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“A new approach to studying the flu”

Scientists have known for decades that a flu virus in a human body can be a lot different than viruses grown in a lab. As opposed to the uniform, spherical, textbook-style viruses in a petri dish, in humans they vary in shape and composition — particularly the abundance of certain proteins — even if they are genetically very similar.

It has been difficult to study the exact number and location of these proteins on any individual virus, however. The go-to method in cell biology would involve attaching a fluorescent protein to the area of interest; the light makes the area easier to image and study.

But trying to attach fluorescent proteins to the molecules that make up a flu virus is like trying to get a third person on a tandem bike: There just isn’t room. The fluorescent proteins are about the same size as the flu proteins; introducing such a relatively large element throws the virus out of whack.

A paper by Michael Vahey, assistant professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis and Daniel A. Fletcher, Purnendu Chatterjee Chair in Engineering Biological Systems and Chair of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that flu proteins can be tagged using a different method. The process has already yielded information that hints to one advantage at minimum for having so many flu phenotypes, that is, various shapes and configurations found in genetically identical flu particles.

The paper was published November 9 in the journal Cell.

“Under what circumstances is it adaptive, and how so?” Vahey asked. “This is a first step toward understanding that. But it’s not a complete picture.”

In order to move past the labeling difficulties, Vahey adapted a method that is typically used to label a specific area on a protein called, appropriately, “site-specific labeling.” Instead of using a fluorescent protein, he inserted sequences five- to 10-amino-acids-long into the proteins that make up Influenza A virus. This is the most common flu virus, and also the most dangerous to humans.

After inserting these short sequences, he introduced enzymes and small amounts of fluorescent dyes. These enzymes take different dye molecules and connect them to the engineered viral proteins, giving researchers the ability to see individual proteins without disrupting how they — or the virus they make up — functions.

Of particular interest to researchers are the proteins hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). HA is responsible for allowing a flu virus to attach to a cell and NA is responsible for decoupling the virus from the cell so that it can go on to infect others. (This is where designations such as H1N1 or H3N2 come from; the surface of the virus has different types of HA and NA that are referred to by specific numbers, or subtypes).

“Once we have the ability to label individual viruses, we can image them and quantify how much of each protein they have per particle, and what the size of that particle is,” Vahey said.

Utilizing site-specific labeling overcomes a longstanding challenge in the study of flu viruses. Now that they could take a more detailed look, Vahey and Fletcher decided to do just that, setting up an experiment that might help them understand whether or not the variation seen in individual flu viruses might be adaptive, helping the virus to spread infection.

The researchers studied individual flu viruses released from cells, some of which were treated with a substance that blocks NA from doing its job, releasing the virus from a cell. (This is how the antiviral drug Tamiflu works. If the virus cannot release itself from the cell, it cannot spread and reproduce).

Then they compared the virus particles that were able to detach from the untreated cells to those that were able to detach from the cells treated with the NA inhibitor.

Hooking up: One way the flu may species-hop

You’ve heard of avian flu and swine flu. That’s because Influenza is zoonotic, it can be transferred from one animal to another. The heterogeneous nature of the virus may help it do this.

“Typically the receptor that the virus binds to in not identical in, say a bird and a human,” said Michael Vahey, assistant professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Science but flu virus binds to receptors almost like Velcro. “There are many different hooks, the more you have, the harder it is to peel it off.” In the case of Influenza, the “hooks” are hemagglutinin, (HA).

It’s possible that a variant animal flu virus with a high number of HA can successfully attach to a human cell, creating new ways to make humans miserable with the flu.

“What we found is that viruses that are smaller, or have more NA, are more resistant to the NA inhibitor,” Vahey said. “They were more likely to be able to detach from a cell that has been challenged with Tamiflu.” They could then go on to infect more cells.

The results suggest that these two variations — being smaller than average, or having more NA — could be beneficial for a virus that found itself in a person who had been treated with Tamiflu. It’s one example of how having lots of diversity among individual viruses might be advantageous.

On the other hand, viruses with more HA, or that are larger, can bind more strongly to cells. “Under any particular circumstance, it might be beneficial to be anywhere within that range,” Vahey said. “In the case of Tamiflu treatment, you’re inhibiting NA such that the viruses that happen to have more NA and also happen to be smaller now have a little bit of a leg up.”

More broadly, Vahey said, “If you have an environment that is changing rapidly over time, if you were reliant on genetic adaptations, you might be in some trouble, because it takes a certain amount of time for mutations to accumulate.” But phenotypic diversity generates changes relatively quickly. Each time a virus replicates, the next generation displays a host of variation, some of which might be suited to the environment where it finds itself.

Down the line, the importance of phenotype may have implications for the development of new flu vaccines. “Typically in the development of a flu vaccine, you’re concerned about how genetic changes in the virus may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Vahey said. “This could be an additional consideration, how variation in viral phenotype may contribute.”

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 94 tenured/tenure-track and 28 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.

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The Industrials:

“Guiding the smart growth of artificial intelligence”

A new paper published in AI Communications provides a comprehensive look at the development of an ethical framework, code of conduct, and value-based design methodologies for AI researchers and application developers in Europe. The “Barcelona Declaration for the Proper Development and Usage of Artificial Intelligence in Europe” was launched in the spring of 2017 at the B-Debate event in Barcelona, to stimulate further discussion among policy makers, industry leaders, researchers and application developers on AI’s opportunities and risks in the current “gold rush” environment.

In addition to documenting the complete Barcelona Declaration, the paper examines the rationale behind it, focuses on safety, reliability, and ethics issues and evaluates progress on its key recommendations. Sponsored by the Biocat and l’Obra Social la Caixa, with support from ICREA, the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva, and the Institut d’Investigacio en Intelligencia Artificial, B-Debate assembled top experts in Europe to discuss strategies to deal with AI risks and benefits. The event was unique because of the participation of European developers and researchers in discourse that had been previously dominated by US and UK social scientists, legal experts, and business consultancy firms. The Barcelona Declaration was signed by most of the participants and is accessible for signature and discussion on the web.

“Given the widespread interest in AI and the eagerness to develop applications that affect people in their daily lives, it is important that the research and application development community engages in open discussions to avoid unrealistic expectations, unintended consequences, and usage that causes negative side effects or human suffering,” said Luc Steels, PhD, ICREA Research Professor, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) — IBE (UPF/CSIC), Barcelona, who with his co-investigator Ramon Lopez de Mantaras, PhD, Research Professor of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Director of the Instituto de Investigación en Inteligencia Artificial (IIIA) — CSIC, Bellaterra, Barcelona, organized the Barcelona event.

While most AI activity is in the US and China, recent actions by the European Commission and national governments indicate that research and development are ramping up in Europe, growth that the discourse around the Declaration is helping to shape. A promising development was the recent allocation within the European H2020 framework program for the creation of an ecosystem and platform to stimulate European AI research, as called for in the Declaration. The paper renews its appeal to European funding agencies and companies to invest in the development of AI at a scale that is adequate for the challenge, and in such a way that all European regions and citizens can profit.

The B-Debate, Barcelona Declaration, and a rapidly growing body of literature are raising pressing questions that continue to resonate: Is AI ready for large-scale deployment? AI is now used primarily for commercial purposes, but can we also use AI for the common good? What applications should we encourage? How can the negative effects in the deployment of AI be addressed? What are recent technical breakthroughs in AI and how do they impact applications? What should be the role of AI in social media? What are the best practices for the development and deployment of AI?

“While rapid AI advances are widely anticipated with excitement, some anxiety about progress is necessary and justifiable,” commented Steels and Lopez de Mantaras. “The common fear that AI deployment will get out of hand may seem far-fetched, but there are already unintended consequences that need urgent remediation. For example, algorithms embedded in the web and social media have an impact on who talks to whom, how information is selected and presented, and how facts/falsehoods propagate and compete in public space. AI should (and could) help to support consensus formation rather than destroy it. AI systems should make it very clear that they are artificial rather than human. Fooling humans should never be a goal of AI.”

Questions are also being explored about the reliability and accountability of AI systems based on deep learning involving rule-governed behavior (e.g. financial decision-making, human resource management, or law enforcement). Embedded biases can prevent qualified job seekers from passing screening or result in unjust parole decisions. Autonomous AI systems pose different concerns. Do we need to put limits on autonomous weapons? Who is responsible when something goes wrong with a self-driving car?

“The Barcelona Declaration has set forth a governance framework to integrate best practices proactively, as part of the design process. We believe that AI can be a force for the good of society, but that there is a sufficient danger for inappropriate, premature or malicious use to warrant the need for raising awareness of the limitations of AI and for collective action to ensure that AI is indeed used for the common good in safe, reliable, and accountable ways,” explained Steels and Lopez de Mantaras.

Although the landscape of AI in Europe is rapidly changing through all these discussions and activities, the investigators conclude that issues raised in the Declaration remain highly relevant, and renew recommendations in several priority areas:

  • There is an even greater need today to clarify what we mean by AI when discussing legal and ethical issues. There is a lack of distinction between knowledge-based AI, which models human knowledge in computational terms, or data-oriented learning, commonly known as machine learning. The legal and ethical issues and applications for both approaches are dissimilar, but the AI’s full potential will only be realized with a combination of them.
  • The question how much autonomy should be given to an AI system is for many applications, such as weapon technology or autonomous cars, of primary importance. One approach is to create rules of governance and a legal framework that is both a guideline for developers and a mechanism by which those impacted negatively by the technology can seek redress.
  • The focus must shift from machines replacing human workers to complementing and leveraging humans in performing tasks and making better decisions. The discussion on automation should focus on the changing nature of work, not only the number of jobs.
  • There is a long way to go to adequately support the development and deployment of AI in Europe. The Declaration has helped to raise awareness and has given additional impetus to government initiatives, but concrete actions and stable funding allocations that directly impact AI deployment, research, and education in Europe are still rare.

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