Thursday, January 20, 2011

How To Get People Back To Work, and Keep Them Employed

(Another work-in-progress article that I just felt like posting anyway.)

Maryland Avenue Fire 0109724

The newspapers are again filled with White House statements about efforts to create jobs. The politicians echo themselves but seem to offer few concrete plans. In the meantime business leaders wait almost silently for the inevitable tax breaks they will be offered in exchange for hiring certain categories of people. For example:

  • Hire somebody that has been unemployed for more than 52 weeks and you get $1,000 in tax breaks.
  • Hire somebody and keep them employed for 6 months and your business can deduct the first $1,000 in new hire costs.
  • Hire some one just released from prison, just off welfare, just out of drug rehab. and your business gets...

I'm sure you get my drift. These incentives are so predictable there must be hundreds of employers holding off on hiring just in anticipation that the tax breaks will soon arrive.

At the same time there are other advisors no doubt touting job training efforts, something along the lines of "Teach a man to fish..." Hundreds of vocational education centers are already salivating at the thought of such programs they can use and abuse to defray the costs of training more bricklayers or network admins.

What we really need, however, is for consumers to start spending more money on the few American-made products left on the markets. Beyond vegetables, microchips, and esoteric parts for things like aircraft, the idea of American-made products is almost becoming an oxymoron. Most new jobs in the U.S. seem to involve services like health care, sales, and mortgage refinance. I often see offers for pizza delivery men, grocery clerks, and wait staff in shop windows or local paper classified sections.

I get to sit down and talk with young and old people on a regular basis. Some are waiting for customers to come in and take a table at a local (often empty) establishment I frequent. Others sit with me on their lunch breaks at the huge call centers I support. I listen to their hopes and dreams and offer suggestions from my long and storied job history. A single trend seeps through all the small talk.

America is in dire need of qualified career counselors.

That's right. There is no shortage of people willing to learn new skills. There is no lack of initiative when it comes to taking classes at the local community college. People will stick with new hire training programs if they are allowed in the front door. It's what happens next that is the basic problem.

People who did far more interesting work just a few years ago seem to have great difficulty translating those efforts into some new industry. Employers are reluctant to put an unknown person into a position beyond entry-level drudgery. Many applicants fail to see the benefits of taking an entry-level job just to get a foot in the door. I've taken entry-level jobs on so many occasions that I now relish the opportunity. It's like sampling the entire menu at a restaurant while getting paid a little something to do so.

Applicants fail to do their part to describe their true talents. A small but consistent group of applicants overstate their skills thereby instilling a sense of doubt about all applicants in all hiring agents. Human resources people these days seem to start off with the opinion that the applicant sitting before them is not telling the truth about anything. Thorough background checks are too time-consuming and expensive. In addition, many employers are reluctant to say much about a former employee for fear of lawsuits.

One solution to the problem of job creation is to train people precisely how to honestly sell themselves to a potential employer. It is an age-old challenge that demands patience and understanding but the fruit of the effort could be thousands or even millions of people placed in jobs that are right for them.