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Paying the Piper

The May 11 print issue of Business Week has a must-read article for anyone who is in the job market, worried about job security, or generally recognizes that our employment market isn't quite as effective as we think. The author notes that in the midst of the high-unemployment across the country, there are about 3 million job openings that aren't being filled. Why? The short answer is that job-seekers don't match the jobs. The jobs require skills sets different than those held by people looking for work. We've known for years that a number of industries are shrinking (e.g. manufacturing) and other industries are growing (e.g. health care). Even with this information, employers in shrinking industries did little retraining of their workforces and employees in these same shrinking industries thought little about becoming trained for another line of work. That gets us to today: jobs going begging for people to fill them, while workers by the millions are collecting unemployment. It's time to pay the piper. Here's the Big Question: Who is responsible for retraining and retooling? The organization or the worker? Rather than facing reality and stepping into the responsibility, each points the finger at the other while saying loudly, "we have no money to retrain." This leads to more of the same, while the market imbalance only increases. We are so quick to place blame and so slow to roll up our sleeves and get to work! work_retraining Let's look at both perspectives. Employers Fact: some industries cannot hire enough qualified people, e.g. health care, education, professional services and government. Their options: continue understaffed, shut down parts of the business, inflate hiring packages, or hire under-qualified people and train them. The last option of the four makes a lot of sense...and maybe that's why it's not often selected. For whatever reason, employers expect that their employees will come with 110% of position requirements... fully trained with short or non-existent learning curves. Given the current pool of unemployed workers, this expectation is beyond a mismatch...it's a fantasy. Most employers will take one (maybe all) of the first three options before they even consider training people. Why? Because 'we've always hired this way.' Or, it's too expensive. Yet, these same employers don't calculate the true costs of the first three options. So, employers' expectations aren't aligned with their business needs. Workers Fact: many people searching for work have outdated, irrelevant skills yet they continue to search for jobs that use those skills. Of course, the jobs aren't there. Their options: blame the economy and continue to feel worthless, expect additional unemployment benefits from the stimulus money, wish that things were the same as they were twenty years ago, or retrain for another industry or work function. Again, the last option of the four makes the most sense...yet it's often not pursued for lack of money (and a guaranteed return) or for lack of confidence. Probably because of Industrial economy paternalism, employees see training as what employers do, and so their expectations get in the way of a common sense solution to the employment market blues. So, who must take accountability to create a match between employer needs and worker skills? Both. It does the economy little good to have employers unable to compete globally; it does society little good to have great numbers of unemployed; it does families little good to live in depression and exist on welfare; it does workers little good to lose pride of contribution and self-efficacy. If you're an employer who doesn't believe you can afford to train or retrain--think again, because you can't afford not to. Can you afford to lose customers while you continue to search for the ideal employee? Can you afford to cut back on services while you search? If you're a worker who doesn't believe you can afford to update your skills or retrain for another industry, think again...you can't afford not to either. You must do one or more of these things: 1. Visit your local community college, and talk to a counselor; investigate their retraining programs for growth industries. Ask about loans and grant monies to pay for the training because it's out there. It's time to stop making excuses for why you can't find work. 2. Get on the internet and find out what industries are growing and figure out your best path to invest in yourself and your (and your family's) future. Visit The Occupational Outlook Handbook to determine what interests you, the education and training requirements for positions in that industry and how you can get that training. Another sound source of occupational information is O*Net; visit the site and investigate opportunities for a new direction. 3. Talk to a career coach or counselor to help you define a path. There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost services within any community if you look around. Check out faith-based and social service organizations; these are good sources of and good referrals for community career services. Whether you're an employer looking for skilled workers or a worker looking for stable employment, take another look at how you're doing things. If you're coming up short, making little headway in the employment marketplace and you want to dance, you have to pay the piper. Now's the time.