Today’s HR Voices is by John Kriegsmann:
The current recession has been long and deep. The published rate of unemployment (which the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as U-3) has ranged from a high of 10 percent in 2009 to today’s rate 8.1 percent.
Unfortunately, the published U-3 rate only measures those workers who have been actively searching for work only in the past four weeks. It does not count discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs, or individuals who settle for part-time work because they cannot find a full-time job.
The more inclusive rate can be found in what is called the U-6. In 2009, this figure peaked at 17 percent and currently stands at 14.7 percent. Both the U-3 and U-6 measurements can be compared through this BLS link: Portal Seven | U6 Unemployment Rate.
In addition to the severity and duration of this recession, the average duration of unemployment has shot up to an average of 40 weeks—more than twice the historical average.
Most HR professionals, hardened by the austerity of the past few decades, have become experts at downsizing, rightsizing and outsourcing. While they have mastered this challenge, many have not come to terms with the structural component of today’s job market.
In the face of 23 million unemployed Americans, there are literally millions of jobs in the technology and skilled trades’ disciplines that can’t be filled, simply because employers can’t find candidates with the requisite skills.
We are not talking only about nurses and engineers with higher degrees; in many parts of the country, it is difficult (or impossible) for employers to recruit enough tradespersons—welders, truck drivers, auto mechanics, machinists, and so on—to meet business needs.
The cause of this disconnect between job growth vs. skill: failure of an educational system that has neglected vocational training in favor of a one-size-fits-all approach to universal college education, even in degrees with little or no market demand.
As a result, we have thousands of recent liberal arts grads, burdened by student loan debt, living at home and getting by with retail jobs. The truly scary thing about the plight of these recent liberal arts college grads is that their underemployment could become permanent.
Recruiting techniques that have been effective in the past to fill scarce, high-demand technical and skilled-trade talent will probably not be as successful in today’s economy.
Recruitment budgets are tight, with many potential candidates unwilling to relocate because they can’t sell their homes. Bottom line cost constraints make using employment agencies a tough sell.
Paying above-market premium salaries to attract technical talent is always problematic, even more so given today’s economy. During normal economic times, it is generally difficult (if not impossible) for HR professionals to sell line-management to nontraditional candidate sources, such as returning veterans and long-term unemployed.
The persistent lack of technical talent, in the face of bottom line cost constraints and necessitated by a long recession, may just have created an environment more receptive to new approaches.
The biggest obstacle to employing a fresh approach may be stereotypes—the long- term unemployed are unemployable and military skill sets seen as not readily transferable to the civilian job market.
In the past, these perceptions may have had some validity, especially during periods of full employment. However, in today’s labor market there are literally millions of long-term unemployed and returning military veterans; they have solid job records, good work ethics and the ability to learn new skills.
While traditional High School Vo-Tech has declined, private tech schools and the Junior College system have picked up the slack. Now, they are capable of delivering up-to-date training in a wide range of technical and skilled craft disciplines. Many schools are also willing to work with employers to develop training partnerships, using shared resources to develop technical and skilled training. Often these schools receive assistance from State and/or Federal funding to help defer the cost.
HR professionals who can help develop these partnerships—delivering cost effective results—will enhance their careers, as well as their standing in the community.
Next: Resource information in how to create educational partnerships.
John Kriegsmann has more than forty years of HR experience in a broad array of industries, from Fortune 500 to midsize, private companies. His involvement includes starting up and reorganizing HR functions in small to mid-size high-growth firms, managing Employee Relations and Staffing Functions for large organizations.
John has a BA degree from Illinois Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. and a MS in Industrial Relations from Loyola University in Chicago. His work has appeared in Duns Review and the Personnel Administrator.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org