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Coming up empty-handed on hires? Economists talk about why

It seems counter-intuitive. Even as the unemployment rate soars and nearly 16 million Americans find themselves out of work, many HR professionals are having a hard time filling their open positions.

It’s not a quantity issue –- any ad HR posts is sure to result in hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes — or even a quality issue. It’s a qualifications issue. In times of change, industries morph more quickly than people do, resulting in a mismatch between available jobs and job candidates. We look to the Dow Jones Newswire for some analysis:

Economists say the main problem is a mismatch between available work and people qualified to do it. Millions of jobs with attractive pay and benefits that once drew legions of workers to the auto industry, construction, Wall Street and other sectors are gone, probably for good.

And those who lost those jobs generally lack the right experience for new positions popping up in health care, energy and engineering. Many of these specialized jobs were hard to fill even before the recession. But during downturns, recruiters tend to become even choosier, less willing to take financial risks on untested workers.

The problem is definitely more pronounced in emerging industries:

With job openings largely concentrated in specialized industries like health care, green technology and energy, some employers say the problem is finding qualified workers, which are in short supply. Meanwhile, they are inundated with eager candidates from other industries who lack the skills and experience that the job requires.

In the above article, ‘Great job openings, no candidates: Hiring managers struggle to find employees, even as millions of jobs seekers are desperate for work,’ CNN interviewed a Director of Human Resources who is in charge of hiring Registered Nurses and Home Health Aides. The positions pay between $30,000 and $45,000, but despite a  glut of applicants, many have been open for six months or more. ‘We get tons of resumes,’ says the HR Director. The problem, she says, is that they are bombarded by applications that lack the two years’ experience required. The result is that the positions stay unfilled, even as HR employees spend insupportable amounts of time searching through resumes to find appropriate candidates.

The problem is serious for people on both sides of the hiring desk, and it is not likely to go away anytime soon. New data just released by the Labor Department shows that as of September 2009, there were 6.1 unemployed persons competing for each job opening. At the beginning of the economic slowdown, not even two years ago, there were only 1.7 workers competing for each job opening. That means competition for jobs more than tripled since December 2007!

The article goes on to remind us that during the last three major recessions (in 1982, 1991 and 2001), it took more than a year for the unemployment rate to peak after the downturns officially ended. This is partially a reaction to economic forces, and partly because it takes time to transition laid-off workers to the industries that need them. Check out the Associated Press story ‘Even as layoffs persist, some good jobs go begging‘:

It can take a year or more for a laid-off worker to gain the training and education to switch industries. That means health care jobs are going unfilled even as laid-off workers in the auto, construction or financial services industries seek work. ‘So we have this army of the unemployed,’ without the necessary skills, [said the expert interviewed].

We are looking at a society-wide problem that is only going to be corrected with the passage of time and with resources devoted to re-training displaced workers. In the meantime, Human Resources is facing massive drains on its own resources. How is your department handling screening large amounts of applicants?

Is your organization offering any training, or working with any re-training agencies? Is it difficult to explain to co-workers outside of HR why it may be taking extra time to find the right match? We’re interested in hearing your strategies and your success stories. —————-

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