3 Game-Changing Things Job Seekers Can Teach Us About the U.S. Employment Report

Now that we’ve had time to absorb Friday’s jobs report, and we’ve heard the politicians politicize and the pundits pontificate, let’s turn this over and look at it from a different perspective: that of a job seeker. While examining things from this angle won't change the bottom line, it will demonstrate in very practical terms why a narrow cut-cut approach to job creation is a failure from the start.     

Consider two sectors cited by analysts as the ‘few bright spots’ in the May employment report: health care and transportation / warehousing, which gained 33,000 and 36,000 jobs, respectively, during the month. After the May numbers were released, I took a look at what the popular Indeed web site had to say about opportunities in those sectors. Indeed listed 409,456 current job openings in health care, 84% of which were identified as full-time. It also showed 202,265 available jobs in transportation and warehousing, 85% being full-time.   

That’s a lot of jobs. Sure, there’s not enough for everyone who wants one to have one, but there is enough opportunity there to put almost 612,000 of the unemployed back to work. So why haven’t these jobs been snatched up?

Here are three of the most likely answers from job seekers – the people who know the employment scene best. 

1) Although job titles may appear the same, many of today’s in-demand occupations have different requirements than they did only a few years ago, and job seekers aren’t prepared.  Information technology and its offspring, globalization, have transformed the health care and transportation sectors, and there are few positions left that do not require use of up-to-date technologies in dynamic work environments. Industry-recognized credentials are more prevalent and new and emerging occupations may require educational courses that are not universally available. Try to upgrade your resume to informatics nurse specialist, nuclear medicine physician, nurse anesthetist, compliance officer, supply chain manager, logistics analyst, international customs broker, for example; it’s not easy.  

2) It’s a buyers’ market, and employers have gotten picky. Some job descriptions are loaded with more competencies than any one-person can possibly possess. Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told the Wall Street Journal that "for every story about an employer who can't find qualified applicants, there's a counterbalancing tale about an employer with ridiculous hiring requirements.” Some job descriptions appear designed to cover any future eventuality.  The result is that even the qualified don’t qualify for some available jobs. 

Cappelli says employers must take some responsibility for the skills mismatch now blamed on schools and job seekers.  “The real problem,” he insists, “is ... an inflexibility problem.  Finding candidates to fit jobs is not like finding pistons to fit engines, where the requirements are precise and can't be varied. Jobs can be organized in many different ways so that candidates who have very different credentials can do them successfully.”

3) Many jobs in the health care and transportation sectors require 21st century technical skills and competencies, evidenced by post-secondary certificates and degrees. But, these credentials are often not sufficient to land a good job. Are They Really Ready to Work?, a report that summarizes a 2006 survey of employers conducted by four national workforce organizations, found that applied skills trump book learning among a majority of employers looking for new hires. The applied skills rated most important included professionalism / work ethic, teamwork / collaboration, oral communications, and critical thinking. The findings of a 2012 survey of CEOs conducted by IBM provide a consistent message. These business leaders identified interpersonal skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and flexibility as key drivers of employee success.

Experienced professionals who lost their jobs to downsizing say that the situation is especially difficult when trying to move from one industry sector to another. A computer systems analyst who loses his / her job due to budget cuts in the public sector, for example, may not be competitive for a comparable position in a hospital system; hospital employers want applicants with direct experience applying technical and interpersonal skills in a health care environment. 

Creating jobs on paper is one thing, but unless there is an adequate pool of people ready to fill them, on paper is where those jobs will stay. Job seekers know the realities very well. We disregard their perspectives at our peril.

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Blair Forlaw

Blair Forlaw is an economic development freelancer with a special interest in talent development and the changing world of work. She supports business, government, professional organizations, and non-profits in crafting new approaches to workforce challenges. Blair is a member of No Labels, a national movement of nearly 500,000 citizens who are pushing back on hyper-partisanship with an action plan to restore common-sense, bi-partisan problem-solving in Washington.

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