Forget the forecasts — much to everyone's delight, job creation once again exceeded economists' expectations.

But while all major signs point to a healthy economy, employers will still have their work cut out for them when it comes to attracting talent. Job seekers remain in the driver's seat, situated in a prime position to lend their services to the employers who can now pay the most.

So what should you be paying to attract today's top talent? We'll point you in the right direction here, along with the latest insight and analysis into February's Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Let's get started.

a great month for job gains

The second month of 2022 became the second in a row of positive job growth. When February was all said and done, the U.S. economy added 678,000 jobs. That's up from January's already impressive total of 467,000, and a clear sign that a positive trend is forming.

Even better, many of these gains were made in industries hurt most by the pandemic. Leisure and hospitality led the way with the creation of 179,000 jobs. Other sectors, like professional services, healthcare and construction also enjoyed strong growth. We've seen this flurry of activity reflected in our own internal data, as well, where we've observed high labor demand for both permanent and contingent talent as companies scale their hiring and invest in talent. It would seem it's all paying off, too, as the unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 in February — a new pandemic low.

While all these signs, taken together, paint a favorable portrait for employers, there are other outlying numbers that could provide some cause for concern.

stagnant wages could spell trouble for employers

While the Great Resignation may be slowing slightly, job opportunities are still outpacing hires by about 4.5 million. With talent hard to come by, many employers increased wages in order to stay competitive. Over the past year, advertisements for bonuses in job postings increased across all sectors by a whopping 454 percent, with bonuses reaching upwards of $100,000.

Last month, however, that trend slowed. Whether it was a natural correction from the astronomical increases from previous months, or a sign that employers have taken their foot off the gas, remains to be seen. However, it's stark enough to be mentioned: In today's fast-moving hiring market, with a high rate of inflation, taking your eye off wages for even just one month could prove problematic. Job seekers listed compensation and benefits as the most important career consideration when making career choices, and when it comes to hiring today, they're still firmly in the driver's seat. That means that, all else being equal, expect them to sign on with the highest bidder.

Consulting an online tool like an up-to-date salary guide can help ensure that you're paying salaries that are in line with your competitors and local market.

what else employers can do

Increasing salaries is a first line of defense, but it may not be feasible for every employer. If your budget doesn't allow for a lot of leeway on salaries, consider incentives like:

filling the flexibility gap

There's a profound disconnect between employees and the C-suite when it comes to remote work: Seventy-seven percent of Americans are looking for more flexibility in their jobs and career, yet two-thirds of executives would rather work in the office most or all of the time.

According to our own internal data, 93,000 people searched for remote jobs in just one month — but only 12 percent of the jobs explicitly offered remote opportunities. That's a lot of potential candidates not finding what they're looking for. If you can provide it, you could potentially get your company to the top of the list.

skilling strategically

In the midst of widespread digital transformation, the need to upskill or reskill has never been greater — and employees are starting to feel the pressure: Sixty-three percent of American workers are looking to their employers to provide skills assessment tests to help them better understand the skills economy. What's more, a full 79 percent of workers agree that to retain or increase their future employability, they need to continue their learning and development efforts.

For industries like manufacturing and logistics, where remote work isn't feasible, focusing on upskilling or reskilling will be a must. But the need for greater learning and development is universal, and employers across all sectors can increase their chances of landing and retaining talent by making it a priority.

the bottom line

Inflation coupled with a job seeker's market means employers will need to loosen the purse strings in 2022 in order to attract top talent. Consult resources like a reputable salary guide to make sure your compensation rates are competitive, and look to other incentives like increased flexibility and skilling to create a well-rounded talent-attraction strategy.

For more hiring insights and tips you can use, visit the Randstad Business Insights page.