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Friday, October 10, 2008

This Great Depression: One Solution

Does it really make sense to put more people out of work when unemployment, for many reasons, is one of the big problems impacting consumer spending and business profits? FDR created the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during last Depression primarily to address mass unemployment. If you make more people unemployed, soon more people will need state assistance.

National governments around the world keep focusing on ways to prop up failing big businesses like Fortis or AIG. When banks no longer trust other banks or stop loaning money the global economy quickly comes to a screeching halt.

Business and industry sees no other choice but to put more people out of work. This means fewer people have any money to spend on goods and services. This situation too can spiral out of control.

Instead of racing down the path to mass unemployment and Depression business and government needs to look at fixing the employment situation. Call it "trickle up economics" if you will, but consumer spending is the biggest driver of every major economy around the world.

The existing tools that people use to find work include state and private employment agences plus Internet sites including Monster, Stepstone, SimplyHired, Craigslist, and CareerBuilder. In addition people network with friends, associates, and family members to determine where work needs to be done. All these methods are blunt tools in an age when technology is being put to use for so many important tasks. Firms with deep pockets and a vested interest in exploring solutions that use the latest technologies, businesses like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and HP, need to come up with a better way to quickly match people to available job openings. These new tools should help employers in specific regions find qualified workers, and put them before people that make hiring decisions, more efficiently.

It is not enough to say that existing job boards or agencies already do this, they clearly are not efficient or accurate enough. These old tools depend too much on the skills of people seeking the jobs. Oddly enough, quite a few of the available jobs do not require the skills that people need to effectively use the only tools that are there to land the jobs. Why can't a job seeker explain his or her last job and skills, using spoken language, to a computer that understands the skills of the applicant? Why can't the computer quickly connect people with relevant skills to people ready to interview for open positions? Face-to-face interviews are important, but does an already financially-strapped job seeker really need to drive or ride public transport all over town to find the right job?

I realize technology, including computers, automation, and robots, have already put many people out of work. But it is entirely possible that the same technology can be put to more effective use to place millions of people in the right jobs. It might even mean that some companies need to hire groups of people that can figure out the way to create a new job placement system, new skills assessment tools, new job training programs, and new ways to get qualified people in front of people that can make hiring decisions. This is one way to beat back the looming Depression. We need to try it now.

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