Long Island added more than 16,000 net new jobs in March, led in part by hiring in support services such as cleaning and security that could signal workers’ return to offices.

The increase in jobs last month from February — a 1.4% increase — was above average for March and reflects businesses anticipating increased demand for their services, said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the state Labor Department’s Hicksville office.

“We are seeing some acceleration in job gains in anticipation of further loosening of restrictions and an economic recovery,” Patel said. “It’s slightly faster than the average growth for March,” which is a gain of 12,400 jobs.

Gains in support service industry

One of the areas that saw job increases in both February and March and could point to a broader return to office spaces, Patel said, is the support services industry, which includes janitorial services, security services, property maintenance and other temporary help services.

That sector “saw an acceleration in hiring, adding 4,600 jobs in February and March, compared to an average of 2,100,” Patel said. “As businesses anticipate bringing back employees to their offices, they’re going to be using more business support or administrative services.”

Craig Weiss, president of T. Weiss Realty Corp., which owns 500,000 square feet of office space in Melville, said his firm has hired an additional staff member to help with sanitizing, and that the cleaning companies he contracts for his properties have increased their hiring.

“For the comfort of those employees who may not have been back for a whole year, if they see that ‘my employer has enhanced cleaning,’ it gives them peace of mind,” Weiss said.

And while his larger business tenants have continued to keep staffing low, especially those with offices throughout the country, Weiss said many of his smaller tenants have already returned to the office.

“My parking lots are more full,” he said. “They’re not back to pre-COVID levels, but they’re slowly rising.”

Restaurants, bars hiring

In addition to those office support jobs, the Island also has seen an increase in hiring for restaurants and bars, Patel said. The increase over the last two months could indicate that owners are prepping for more active, vaccinated customers.

“Food services and drinking places, which recently began to see capacity restrictions lifted, increased employment by 3,400 in February and March, more than twice the average of 1,600,” she said.

But overall, the Island’s job market remains way down from pre-COVID days.

On a year-over-year basis, the Island was down 94,900 jobs last month compared with the same month last year. All nine of the private industry sectors tracked by the state Labor Department were down last month compared with March 2020.

The three sectors with the largest year-over-year decline in jobs were trade, transportation and utilities — a sector that includes retail — which lost 20,200 jobs; leisure and hospitality, including restaurants and bars, down 19,900 jobs; and health care, down 18,900 jobs.