Assumptions About Unemployed

Every day I interact with the professional level unemployed in my community. I see first hand the efforts they are making to secure employment. Many have gone back to school, learned new skills, lowered salary expectations, adapted a more open mindset and pushed themselves to explore new directions their lives could take at this point. Still they sit on the shelf of unemployment. Some receive unemployment benefits. Others do not. Many have been out of work near or beyond a year. It’s a stressful time.

When interacting with business leaders, I frequently hear remarks that shed light on the assumptions some have about the unemployed. Many believe people are unemployed by choice. That they prefer to receive unemployment rather than go out and get a job. I’m here to tell you I have yet to meet anyone excited about being on unemployment. The professionals I know are humbled, some to the point of embarrassment, over receiving benefits. Which is probably why so many of those I know never even filed to obtain them, even though they paid into the system for years.  That’s right, never filed. They are tapping into their retirement accounts, draining their savings and selling off assets in order to get by.  Milking the system isn’t the objective of those I interact with. They want a job.

How to get a job though? The advice job seekers get from business leaders most often is to get training in new areas and become more flexible in what they will consider. It’s a nugget of wisdom that easily rolls off the tongue. That’s what you need to do. End of story. The statement is made without even exploring what it is these individuals are trained to do. Many have been retrained already. Many have skills that can be put to use. The flexibility is there on their part. Where can they really put these new found skills and attitudes to work? So many find employers wanting exact fits for their openings. Employers have internships, but they prefer to fill them with new college grads from 4 year institutions, not those coming out of focused training programs designed to get them back to work with a new skill in a short amount of time. They want individuals who are, and have always wanted to be, a specific profession. They are leery when a retrained professional sits across the desk from them. There is a concern the person is only in that profession because the economy forced them out of the job they really wanted.  I’m guilty of this myself. I wonder these things.

Though it may be true the economy changed people’s view of the future, that doesn’t mean those who have found themselves on new career paths are only going through the motions of finding a job. Are some, of course. Necessity dictates they find some way to earn a living, like it or not. Many have come to realize, however, that enjoyment can come from a variety of career options. Fewer are defined by a career choice. More understand the professional hazard of seeing their abilities and interests in such a narrow way.

I’m coming to believe something is missing from the equation. We have job seekers embracing the concept of upgrading their skills, changing their career path and being more flexible with their options. What we don’t have is enough companies embracing these changes. I still see many running from candidates who don’t fit the mold they are most comfortable with. A corporate leader who tells a job seeker to go learn a new skill should ask himself how he would deal with that person as a candidate for a job in his company. Would the tenured automotive worker who went back to school for a Finance degree make it through his company’s initial screening process for an analyst position? Would his resume even be called or would a “no thank you” letter go out? To the corporate leader who tells the job seeker to be more flexible, how do you view the candidate who made $80,000 in his past job who is applying to your $40,000 job? He’s a flight risk, right? Surely something is wrong if he is willing to consider such a drastic cut?

We’ve all got to work together in this. There is a lot of talk about it being a buyer’s (employer’s) market. Just as there was talk a while back about it being a seller’s (candidate’s) market. The time is right for us to forget about who may have the immediate advantage in terms of being picky and realize, for our community’s greater good, we need to find a way to put the skills available in our workforce to use. We all need to get comfortable with the thought people can adjust, skills are transferable, flexibility isn’t indicative of a problem and unemployment isn’t a verdict on a person’s drive, relevance and capacity to have an open mind.

Businesses have so much to gain from the diverse backgrounds, unique experiences and new appreciation of how to make quick adjustments to changing circumstances many job seekers have to offer. This is especially true of smaller businesses who may need employees to wear several hats in the organization over the course of time. Imagine hiring an employee for a skill he’s recently acquired and having the ability to draw from his past experience in times when a random need develops that doesn’t justify an additional hire.  It’s not impossible these days to hire a newly retrained help desk professional who can occasionally help out with a sales call, writing a grant or fixing a broken copier.

4 Comments

  • Gary Buxton says:

    Lisa,

    IMHO, this is the very best essay you have written and is of professional publication quality.

    It’s the type of writing that my immortal sports hero — Coach Vince Lombardi — would embrace.

    Thank you for objective realism at a time when many of us are confused and discouraged by fluffy drivel.

    God bless you.

    Sincerely,

    Gary Buxton

  • Lisa says:

    Gary, I’m sincerely flattered by your comment. It was a post I felt I had to write.

  • David Brooks says:

    Lisa,

    Although I just met you yesterday, I was impressed with your strong desire and caring for people that are out of work and as you said, many through no fault og their own. I look forward to being a part of your networking events.

    Peace be with you……..

    David Brooks

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you, David. It’s so good to see you out networking. It will accomplish many things. You will form new relationships that can lead you to opportunity and be a part of helping the business community to see a real face of the unemployed. I think businesses are left to make assumptions because too many job seekers are in a sort of self-imposed exile.

    I look forward to your continued involvement in the groups!

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