In what we hope is the end game of our interminable economic downturn, one of it’s most disturbing characteristics is the high unemployment rate. To be sure, multiple indicators of a slow recovery are evident. The housing market is posting gains, technically there is measurable job growth, claims for unemployment are falling.
But the unemployed don’t measure success by small percentage changes. You are either working, or you’re not.
A must read article by James Surowiecki (The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012) entitled “Mind the Gap” addresses the recently identified phenomena known as the Skills Gap.
“The basic truth of the American economy today is that if you don’t have a job it’s hard to get one. Unemployment isn’t high because businesses are shedding jobs – the rate of job loss is back to pre-recession levels. – but because no one’s hiring. And if you listen to employers you’ll hear, in survey after survey, that a big reason they’re not hiring is a dearth of qualified workers.”
JS then refutes the veracity of this claim. “A series of recent studies have found that the skills mismatch is very limited in scope.”
Companies are clearly spooked by the extended recession. They need workers to grow, they and the entire economy need an employed citizenry to buy things. But with a high unemployment rate, the future of the economy is anything but clear.
JS: “… it (slow hiring) is bad for business. In a weak economy most companies worry less about getting every possible dollar of new business than they do about keeping costs down. That makes them slow to hire, which keeps unemployment high, which makes demand weak, which in turn makes employers more reluctant to hire”.
Companies, like people, are also subject to the “Rule of Six”, which states that beyond six reasonable choices, it becomes increasingly difficult to make a choice at all.
Today’s employers are faced with army of applicants. JS mentions a company “… that had 25,000 applicants for a standard engineer’s job and rejected them all. Businesses are holding out for a combination of John Nash and John Henry”.
So companies are in a buyer’s position, with lots of candidates, and the feeling that they can wait, and wait some more, for that one perfect match.
To further the pain of the unemployed, a new villain is revealed – the Applicant Tracking System, eg software screening. JS: “The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the corporate hiring process is less flexible than it once was. Thanks in part to the sheer number of applications, screening of applicants is automated, with computers evaluating résumés according to pre-set criteria. Fail to meet one of these standards, and your application gets tossed, even if a good HR director might have spotted your potential.”
The bottom line here is – Companies need workers and can’t figure out how to identify and hire them. Workers need jobs and can’t get past the HR firewall.
Which brings us to my role as a recruiter. I’ll admit to having worked with companies who refused to consider any candidate who had been out of work for longer than a few months. I’ve seen candidate screening software at work too. The effect of this software on resume building has been to ratchet up the overuse of keywords into a war of attrition.
In my role as an independent recruiter, and especially in working with smaller firms that don’t employ Applicant Tracking Software, I’m positioned to step outside this loop, to see beyond the keyword race, and even to interview candidates who are not necessarily working at the moment. It’s my job to present a small, digestible group of top candidate for my clients to evaluate.