Help Wanted. Or Not

I want to draw your attention to a post I found genuinely interesting from Dave Altig of the Atlanta Federal Reserve. In the post he examines a peculiar fact of the recession and its aftermath: despite the large number of unemployed many employers report an inability to hire workers.

I recommend that your read the post in full but I’ll summarize it quickly. Roughly 10% of employers aren’t willing to pay what prospective employees demand. More than half of the employers report that they can’t find candidates with the necessary skills, experience, or inter-personal skills and there is some evidence to suggest that experience is the most important of these factors. Although once again I am reminded of the help wanted ad I saw in 1982: “IBM PC Expert Wanted; Must Have 5 Years Experience” (the IBM PC was introduced in 1981—not even the people who designed it had five years of experience with it).

Around here it’s been suggested that employers are reluctant to hire the long-term unemployed even when they have the necessary skills. I suspect that reluctance is reported either under the lack of technical skills or lack of inter-personal skills category.

It’s an interesting and important subject.

19 comments… add one
  • Icepick Link

    Typo Alert!

    despite thE large number of unemployed many employers report an INability to hire workers.

    Wouldn’t usually mention the ‘th’ but for its proximity to the other.

  • PD Shaw Link

    “IBM PC Expert Wanted; Must Have 5 Years Experience”
    ***Time Travel A Plus

  • That is, no one wants to hire the unemployed.

  • I’ve read accounts of software engineers who have been out of the loop for as little as five months being tossed by the wayside.

  • Wouldn’t usually mention the ‘th’ but for its proximity to the other.

    Thanks. Fixed.

  • Drew Link

    Ive been making this point for 4 years running. I’ve had bricks thrown at me for 4 years running.

    As a large scale employer, you would be amazed at the difficulty in finding top flight employees. Your would be amazed at what we do to retain them.

    Economists like to call it employment ” friction.” We call it incompetents, malcontents and the lazy.

    Let the bricks fly.

  • Drew, quit throwing bricks.

    Fasanella says, “It will be tricky to find the competencies you need particularly if you’re using modern skill standards. It is more important to hire for core skills than peripheral ones. “

  • Icepick Link

    Janis, Drew believes that the unemployed are out of work solely because they (we!) are lazy, thieving incompetents – every single one of us. It has NOTHING to do with the bad economy. On the other hand, the only reason Drew isn’t making millions more every year is solely because Barack Hussein Obama is a bad manager. No poor person, no unemployed person, has ever been hurt by a bad economy. It’s interesting that millions and millions of people all became such bad characters all at once though. Hmmm….

  • You, on the other hand, are employed to look after a feisty two-year old girl. Look after her well. I was hit by a car when I was about two and and a half. The whole family was watching. Young’uns are slick as snakes.

  • Icepick Link

    Yikes! I assume it worked out okay for you since you’re here.

    Yeah, these little ones are slippery! Mine was climbing 6′ ladders at 22 months. It was at a playground and I was hovering there to catch her, but her climbing has been amazing. (At some point I just caved in – she’s going to climb so all I can do is try to direct it.) Shortly thereafter she was getting up an 8′ tall molded plastic “cliff”. This was on the playground for 5 to 12 year-olds. She precocious on that and many other things.

    I have no idea if she is any smarter than normal for a 2 year-old, but she’s brilliant nevertheless. I am amazed watching her learn and adapt to the great big world. When I’m not terrified, that is!

  • Luckily, they’re pretty pliable, too.

  • jan Link

    When our son was 2 1/2 years old, we were re-building our home. The highest point was framed up to be almost 3 stories high. One afternoon, when I was there, cleaning up after the construction, my eyes left my son for a few short minutes. He was gone when I looked around for him! A few minutes later, I heard a wee little voice high above me, and there he was, at the peak of the building, waving to me.

    He survived, while my heart stopped.

    Yes, they are very quick and fearless at that age.

  • steve Link

    “But turning to the short run, we’ve been pretty sympathetic to structural explanations for the slow pace of the recovery. Nonetheless, we have yet to find much evidence that problems with skill-mismatch are more important postrecession than they were prerecession. We’ll keep looking, but—as our colleagues at the Chicago Fed conclude in their most recent Chicago Fed Letter—so far the facts just don’t support skill gaps as the major source of our current labor market woes.”

    This sounds about right to me. It is always difficult to find really good people. Mediocre is easy to find.


  • Steve, that sounds backwards to what the writer is saying.

    As I read it, employers are hiring the “new, best thing” without looking at core competency.

  • steve Link

    Janis, I think he is saying there is no difference in skill mismatches pre and post recession. It has always been difficult to find the perfect skill match. You usually compromise a bit on something.


  • Jimbino Link

    The big problem is to get past the HR department, peopled with failures at math, science, programming and engineering. That’s where a good headhunter comes in. When I was a headhunter, I had to spend some time educating the employers as to what they really wanted.

    Focusing as they do on experience, they would never hire a green Italian physicist to build a bomb, two bicycle mechanics to build an airplane or a military engineer to paint the Mona Lisa.

    If they question the skills of an unemployed programmer, they can hire him on a contract and pay only for results. Until they do that, they are just blowing smoke. When I found employers like that, I targeted them to be raided so that they would end up with even fewer good programmers or engineers.

  • michael reynolds Link

    I think companies try to substitute a system for personal judgment. (Of course I also suspect non-discrimination compliance is part of it.)

    Back when I was a headwaiter I’d use a simple test on waiter applicants: stack some dishes or carry a tray. I wasn’t actually looking for skill, still less experience which was usually detrimental, I was looking for speed. You can train anyone to wait tables, but not if they have the slows. The slows are incurable.

  • sam Link

    “Focusing as they do on experience, they would never hire a green Italian physicist to build a bomb, two bicycle mechanics to build an airplane or a military engineer to paint the Mona Lisa.”

    Yeah. My favorite story about “experience” comes from a history of the US submarine forces in WWII, Silent Victory. At the beginning of the war, the Navy had developed a profile of the “ideal” sub commander. A guy who fit the profile almost perfectly froze on the periscope the first time his boat encountered a Japanese target and had to be relieved by the XO. He spent the rest of the patrol in his cabin. On the other hand, there was this other skipper who was USNR and had been a stock broker or something like that when the war started. This fellow never thought his boat was close enough for the shot. He was always trying to get in closer and closer. Meanwhile, the crew was scared witless, stuffing socks in their mouths to keep from screaming. Moral: You never can tell…

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