Hiring finding work during the economic recovery

April 3, 2011
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It would seem high unemployment should be an expanding employer’s dream — a vast “bank” of qualified job candidates from which to choose the perfect candidate.

Strangely, that seems not to be a part of “today’s reality.” Global competition has forced many companies to “do more with less,” but organizations in this region seeking to expand seem unable to find qualified workers to fill their needs.

An excess of available jobs during periods of relatively high unemployment or underemployment may be attributable to several mitigating factors:

1. Ongoing unemployment benefits extensions and a pervasive attitude of entitlement from “downsized” workers create an environment that discourages employment.

2. Displaced employees are not willing to accept work paying less than they once earned. For some (though not all), the “pain” has not yet been supplanted by their need for “gain.”

3. Workers are not prepared to assume the responsibilities required by available jobs.

4. The shock and disillusionment long-term employees experience with the loss of a job — the loss of their identity — make them doubt their self-worth.

5. Employers are seeking “instantly qualified workers” rather than taking the time to help train employees during a time of transition.

6. A shortage of technical talent (trades, engineers, IT professionals, finance professionals, management, etc.) is detrimental to long-term growth.

7. Management often seeks to hire the best while offering the least. They have not yet realized that others are also hiring so they must be both internally equitable and externally competitive to attract and retain qualified individuals.

Some laid-off employees fall into lifestyle patterns that are not constructive to finding new jobs. Rather than seeking work as if that process were a job in itself, some individuals view their time off as an opportunity to re-establish family responsibilities, bonds and activities before seeking new work. These employees often begin their search only when “funded time off” ends.

Employers should consider an employee’s mental state when he or she comes to them from a relatively long period of unemployment, recognizing the following realities:

•A higher than normal need for “validation” may exist for the victims of an unexpected lay-off.

•Applicants may need employers to praise, encourage and confirm that what they are doing is right, needed and appreciated.

•Employers must make sure that job assignments are realistic yet challenging for the new employee.

•Individuals unable to find work within their chosen profession may begin to wonder if they can do the work necessary. Even if an employer hired an individual because of his or her work experience, recognize that self-doubts as to their ability to contribute may exist.

•A new employee may not be as quick to trust his or her new organization as in the past. Where employers once had only to offer a job, provide competitive pay and benefits, and give an employee meaningful, significant work, individuals returning to the work force from unexpected absences have developed a basic distrust of the “system” that rejected them.

Acknowledging these realities may help employers understand potential employees, but they could gain much from the new ideas and different perspectives that employees not yet tarnished by the ways a company does things might contribute. Many improved processes are a direct result of new employees not yet realizing something “cannot be done.”

We hear employers in this region screaming that they cannot fill available jobs because those seeking work lack the skills, knowledge or ability to perform the required tasks. What should an employee seeking work do to avoid being part of this situation ? A couple of suggestions might include:

  • Continually upgrade skills. Refuse to accept “what is” as “what will always be.” What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job is no longer sufficient in today’s ever-changing world.

  • Do not confuse efficiency and keeping busy with effectiveness and being productive. Effective employees make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact on their organization’s ability to conduct business.

  • Never believe you are irreplaceable. Being “essential” can make you feel important but it can also limit your ability to try new things. If you never find time to do anything other than your assigned tasks (even if you do them better than anyone else could hope to do them), how can you expect to pursue new opportunities? Individuals who believe they are “critical” to the organization within a limited and specialized area do not typically grow; they tend to reinforce career stagnation by withholding their full potential to contribute from their employer.

  • Do not fool yourself into thinking you know all the answers. Employees who know all the questions are perhaps more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers.

  • Should mistakes occur, employees wishing to make a difference will take accountability for failure. Identifying what went wrong, learning from it so that it will not happen again, correcting the deficiency, and then moving on to accomplish new things will add value to any employee.

During a recovering economy, employers seeking qualified workers and potential employees share a common perspective: They make a difference only when they differentiate themselves from those around them.

What have you done differently today?

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resources solutions since 1939.

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