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A practical discussion of today's job crisis--for applicants but also for employers
on June 5, 2012
Who cares about unemployment? Books like "The Great Reset" by Richard Florida predict that jobs will be redistributed based on the skills of people around geographical centers of excellence. In his new book "Coming Apart" Charles Murray tells us that people struggle to find jobs because they have abandoned traditional American values. We hear every day in the media that our next President will be the one who convinces us that he can resolve the jobs crisis. One wonders whether there's a conspiracy going on with jobs when we hear that companies are sitting on $2 trillion but are reluctant to spend because of low demand and because they can't find candidates with the skills they need. We hear how job hunters--some with advanced degrees and years of experience--suddenly don't have what it takes to work in this economy. And let's face it ... most of us worry personally about working on our own terms, if not for ourselves then certainly for our kids. So it seems that people not only care about finding jobs but it's an emotional issue that gets more emotional every day.
In "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs" Peter Cappelli lays out how we've gotten here, not emotionally and certainly not as an issue of rich vs. poor, liberal vs. conservative, or Democrat vs. Republican as recent books about our current problems tend to do. Cappelli--a management professor at The Wharton School and director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources--is in a unique position to see what's different today than what happened when emerging from recessions in 1991 and 2001. This book is a very fast read because it is to-the-point and clearly presented.
Adapting to the global economy and having a glut of labor from the baby boom generation, Cappelli says, has the changed the expectations of employers. A confluence of events has resulted in a new system that has changed the hiring process and the way new hires are trained to do their jobs:
* HR departments--once existing largely to confront labor issues and unions--gradually downsized as those issues faded away.
* With fewer HR people, employers needed more convenient ways to recruit and handle job descriptions and applications which the Internet has provided.
* Application processing software enabled automated reviews of applications, targeting exact requirements and spitting out applications that were not a perfect match.
* As people were let go and jobs were combined, job descriptions started to look for people who had never existed before. And hiring managers added even more requirements to minimize the risk of failure.
* It has become easier and less risky to leave some vacancies open than to hire people who almost certainly lack the skills for these new super jobs.
This is technology enabling new behaviors that have met the needs of employers but at the detriment not just of job applicants and new employees but mostly to the employers themselves. Cappelli describes how many companies are very aware of how much their jobs are costing them but not so sure about how their profit and cost centers--much less their individual jobs--actually contribute to their revenues. So when they lose people, they can convince themselves that they don't really need to replace those people and their tasks get redistributed to other employees or just don't get done at all. The end result is that the remaining employees get burned out (and quit themselves), new projects get delayed, expansion activities get postponed, etc.
My favorite quote in the book was "There is the simple fact that every generation believes it has experienced profound technological changes, perhaps because it was not around to witness the truly unprecedented changes of previous generations. Imagine witnessing the rise of widely available electricity, telephones, and automobiles--all in the same decade. We are constantly reminded that we live during the computer-driven Information Revolution, but there is no evidence that the current period represents one of unusual changes in technology. Likewise, no data or statistics convincingly support the claim that our job seekers are remarkably unprepared for the future, whatever it may be." It's interesting that the decade Cappelli is describing here (the 1920's) preceded the Depression. Is it a coincidence that our Information Revolution led us into what some now call the Great Recession? Did our innovations and belief in technology force us to get ahead of ourselves in a similar fashion?
In the last chapter Cappelli focuses on different training scenarios that could balance the risk between employers and employees in a job environment where there is bound to be more jockeying for position as companies and employees alike start to plan their careers and take or turn down jobs based on long-term future opportunities. "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs" shows that the path to more acceptable levels of employment is a little more complicated than the emotional arguments we're hearing in the media. Figuring out ways to involve employers and employees; to set up job training programs in-house, in community colleges and tech programs; to engage state and local governments; and to understand how job vacancies are really holding back our companies will lead to new programs that will eventually start to turn things around. Read this book to see the jobs issue in a much more realistic light.