Options for the Jobless
A few days ago I met with a gentleman who has been looking for work for over a year. He has managed to stay positive, but he is beginning to be very frustrated. He has a college degree and a successful work history, and is well groomed and bright. As I looked at him across the table I wished I had a magic answer for him. Many of the jobs that he has applied for the employers say he is over-qualified, so they are afraid to hire him. They are certain that he will leave once the economy improves. He is having a difficult time conveying the message that he understands this economy, he is not afraid of hard work, and he realizes he needs to start over. In my mind, he is doing everything right, but the doors just will not open.
Other individuals that I have met with aren’t as willing to be flexible and aren’t looking for different options. They are still “stuck” in a mode of “I am a manager and I am not willing to work for less then I am worth.” I think my gentleman will eventually find the right match, but the individuals who don’t have a plan B, C and D are going to be waiting a long time for that perfect position.
In the February 5th issue of the Wall Street Journal there was an excellent article by Amy Merrick and Roger Thurow, “The Jobless Go Back to School and They Hope, Work.” To me this fits in the plan B, C or D category. They highlighted an individual, Chad Smith, who considered going to college right out of high school, but started working in construction and the auto industry and was making $55,000 a year at 18 years old. Somehow college did not fit for him when he was making good money.
According to the article, he was laid off from his night job at a Chrysler assembly plant and his day job of construction was gone. “Now 29 years old, Mr. Smith is back in school through a federal retraining program, studying software development and computer networking.”
“Mr. Smith’s career journey shows how both the recession and longer-term structural changes in the economy are hemming the choices of U.S. workers today--particularly in old-line manufacturing towns in the Midwest.”
Retraining has never been easy for workers; it often stresses family finances and family structure. “But in the deep recession, going back to school can be an even greater leap of faith. The velocity of recent layoffs means that many businesses are contracting rather than expanding their payrolls. That leaves many newly trained job seekers competing against more experienced workers who have also been laid off.”
Mr. Smith is from Rockford, Illinois, a city of about 150,000 people northwest of Chicago. Residents of Rockford that have a four-year college degree represent 19% of the population and the national average for the same degree is 27%. In checking the US Census Bureau, our county of Fresno has 17.5% of four-year college graduates and the State of California has an average of 26.6%. Each of these gaps put Rockford and Fresno at a disadvantage when companies offering white-collar jobs are looking to open new offices.
Our local vocational schools and community colleges are reporting rising enrollments, so underemployed or unemployed workers are seeking additional education. The new stimulus bill should offer additional training for our unemployed/underemployed workers. An education is still not a guarantee, but it creates additional options. As the article states, “retraining isn’t always a panacea.” While Mr. Smith plans to move into a potentially lucrative industry, he may have to take a pay cut. As the U.S. has shifted toward a service economy, many new jobs can’t match the wages workers once earned in factories.”
So, after all that rhetoric I still do not have a solution for the gentleman who came in to see me this week. I did suggest -- as I always do -- that he should consider doing some temporary work to help keep him positive, to increase his business network, and to save his unemployment insurance for as long as possible. I have been in the work world for more years then I am willing to admit, but I have never experienced a time as challenging as this. There are no magic answers.
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