Employers Underwhelmed By Candidates Despite High Unemployment

Despite this excess of workers to available jobs, a surprising number of employers say they are getting an underwhelming response, and many are having trouble filling open positions.

There are now 5 unemployed workers on average for every job opening. Some 15 million Americans are looking for work. And youth unemployment across the world has climbed to a new high, according to an International Labor Organization report studying the “lost generation.” 

For example, only 20 people show up at a job fair showed up at a Central Pennsylvania convenience store chain job fair last week, which was hiring for 35 to 40 jobs.  And just a few weeks earlier, just 6 people showed up at a free Employment Skills Boot Camp in Cumberland County (PA), aimed at helping displaced workers create or update resumes and practice techniques to increase their interview skills.

The problem is not isolated to Pennsylvania.  A Wall Street Journal recently reported that a manufacturing plan in Ohio, has been struggling to hire a few toolmakers. "It's bizarre,” Dan Cunningham, chief executive of the Long-Stanton Manufacturing Co. “We are just not getting applicants. This is as bad now as at the height of business back in the 1990s.”

The owner of a lawnmower shop in Indiana says he has been looking for a good mechanic so he can guarantee a one-week turnaround on repairs. He received only two responses to an Internet ad he placed a couple of months ago, even though the job can generate income of more than $40,000 a year.

At the airline Emirates, job fairs held in Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle attracted an average of about 50 people each.  That’s a fraction of the number of candidates who apply at similar fairs in other countries: as many as 1,000 apply at some events in Europe and Asia. These jobs require little more than a high-school diploma and fluency in English. They include free accommodation and medical care, and starting pay of about $30,000 a year. A drawback is likely that Americans might be hesitant to move to Dubai, where the jobs are based. Then again, out-of-work U.S. workers seem to have a safety net.

Employers feel that many of the applicants roaming the floor at job fairs are simply just going through the motions so they could collect their unemployment checks. It appears that some unemployed workers consider jobless benefits an entitlement, not a benefit. 

Another factor is a trend that many experts predicted for nearly two decades – a serious employee skill gap.  The recession not decimated retirement funds but forced a structural change in our job market. Companies slashed millions of middle-skill, middle-wage jobs since the start of the recession. That has created a glut of people who can't qualify for the highly skilled jobs being created but are having a hard time adjusting to Many out-of-work workers, particularly in construction and manufacturing simply don’t have the skills to pick up where they left off when the economic train left the station.

The head of hiring at environmental consultancy Apex Companies says she recently received about 150 applications for an industrial hygienist job paying as much as $47,000 a year. That is about three times the amount she received for similar jobs before the recession. Unfortunately the 5 qualified applicants she received was less than she got before.

"We've always been looking for a needle in a haystack," she reported to the Wall Street Journal. "There's still only one needle, but the haystack has gotten a lot bigger than it was before." 

Linda Fillingham, co-owner of Mechanical Devices Company in Bloomington, IL, is combing through the haystack too. She could use 30 to 40 workers right now, according to a recent CBS News report. She’s not alone. The government says there are 227,000 open manufacturing jobs, more than double the number a year ago. One hundred eighty-three thousand have been created since December, the strongest seven-month streak in a decade.

Unfortunately for Fillingham, it's a shortage of workers, not work that is holding her company back. She’s willing to pay $13 to $18 an hour and still can’t find qualified candidates who are good at math, good with their hands and willing to work on a factory floor.

This disconnect between workers and jobs could handicap the economy for some time. Employers need workers with the combination of analytical skills, intuition and resilience to do the jobs. Many of the out-of-workers simply don’t have what it takes…and it’s only going to get worse.

According to Edward Gordon, author of Winning the Global Talent Showdown, “between today and 2020, it is expected that 74 percent of all jobs created in America will be high-paying jobs for high-skilled workers. While there will be a need for 123 million of those talented people, only 50 million Americans will qualify.   By contrast, low-paying, low-skill jobs will shrink to just 26 percent of the total jobs in the U.S.   Worst of all, just 44 million people will be needed for those jobs, but 150 million or more candidates will be seeking those jobs.”

In other words, despite high unemployment rates, the U.S. as it stands does not have enough people to fill the jobs that should be created and an oversupply of people to fill jobs that are or should be obsolete.


Ira S Wolfe