Virtually every store I went into last week had a “now hiring” sign, or played a recorded announcement about job opportunities. Meanwhile, I continue to speak with job seekers on the phone and on Zoom that need jobs. The jobs report for April, 2021 was also poorer than expected—only 266,000 new jobs created nationwide. What is happening?
If people need jobs, and employers are hiring again, why isn’t everyone working? The answer I’ve heard for years from economists and workforce development directors is a situation called “skills mismatch.” Skills mismatch means that the jobs available do not match job seekers’ skillsets. For example, there may be jobs available for computer programmers, and a factory has been closed, leaving hundreds or thousands of production workers unemployed. Presumably the solution is to train all those production workers as computer programmers.
It does not work. Technical jobs such as computer programming, nursing, and medical technology roles require skills not all former production or administrative workers have or can acquire quickly. It hasn’t stopped workforce training companies from charging the federal government (and students) a lot of money for training programs that dislocated workers are not successful in because they lack the interest or aptitude for the work.
Classic “skills mismatch” is not the reason those retail stores and restaurants in my neighborhood cannot fill their jobs. Many people that lost jobs during the Pandemic either held similar jobs before COVID-19, or have the skills to fill jobs as stockers, cashiers, bussers, waiters, and more.
As a career advisor and coach at workforce programs for dislocated workers, including professionals and executives, in past recessions, I drew a distinction between career jobs and survival jobs or “day jobs.” This distinction has existed for years in the entertainment industry where production cast and crew members work on a show for a time, and have to find new “gigs” when the production ends. In the business world, a former marketing executive I worked with took work at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and then at an employment program (where we shared on office) while she searched for her “dream job” in marketing.
So, why aren’t those retail jobs being filled with job seekers while they plan their return to their regular occupations? Here are some thoughts:
- The jobs pay too little,
- Prospective workers feel at risk due to the ongoing Pandemic,
- Job seekers expect little benefit from jobs off their career track, and
- There is some skills mismatch in the economy.
Think about these points as you decide whether to take a “day job” or “survival job” at a neighborhood business while you pursue a return to your “dream job” or career.
The jobs pay too little.
Around 1999, I recall attending an employment conference where attorneys representing employers argued that job candidates would not accept job offers as long as they were collecting unemployment benefits,. It happened before the era of emergency unemployment due to 9-11 and the 2007 financial crisis.
Of course, the maximum $600 Pandemic unemployment—the equivalent of $15 for a 40 hour week—is more than many retail jobs pay. Wage is not the only factor to consider, though.
Research has demonstrated that employers show less interest in job candidates that have been out of work for six months or more. LinkedIn exacerbates the problem today. As discussed last week, some recruiters search specifically for candidates on the site that are “currently employed” in the role they are seeking to fill. Although taking an irrelevant job such as working at a bookstore or driving for a rideshare company won’t help you show a current role as, say, marketing director, on LinkedIn, you may still gain some benefit from showing you have a job now because recruiters also search for employees of specific companies.
Some job seekers may perceive risks from the ongoing crisis.
Reportedly, job seekers have told employers they do not want to return because they perceive risk from co-workers and customers that are not fully vaccinated. Behavioral scientists define safety and security as a basic human need, so it is understandable, in my opinion, if job seekers would rather not work in certain public-facing roles. It’s a personal decision based on each job seeker’s risk tolerance. Just be aware of the short-term and long-term implications for your career.
Job seekers see little benefit in taking a job off their career track.
There are both short-term and long-term economic and career benefits to taking a “survival” job while working toward a post-COVID career.
Short-term economic benefits depend in part on whether or not you are collecting unemployment compensation or severance benefits from a prior job. If you are no longer receiving benefits or are not eligible for whatever reason, $10 or $12 per hour is better than $0. Staying on the sidelines is costing you money if you are not collecting cash benefits.
The calculation could be different if the job offers health benefits or other benefits you need or want. Health benefits offered through a job could be much cheaper than COBRA. So, remember to consider the advantages of benefits, if offered, before you say no to a low-wage job you can do.
You should also consider potential long-term career and economic benefits. A career advantage is that once you are inside a company, even at a relatively low level, you gain access to jobs that are only offered internally, and to a network of insiders that will get to know your work. You could ultimately find work in the business that utilizes your previous skills and experience, or start a new career.
Skills mismatch does exist in the economy.
While classic skill mismatch is probably not a major reason retailers and fast-food locations are facing labor shortfalls, it is a real issue. As discussed in another recent blog post, there is high demand in the economy for specialized jobs, including medical professionals and software developers. The vast majority of these require university degrees and extensive additional training, so job seekers cannot qualify based on transferrable skills or short-term job training. This kind of skill mismatch in the economy takes years to resolve.It’s your decision whether or not to take a job that may not fit your long-term career aspirations or salary goals. We can work with you on a career marketing strategy that features your choice in the best light possible. Contact us for a no-cost consultation regarding your career marketing campaign.
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