“Retraining” is a buzzword in today’s economy, but why?
Personal computers, automation, and the internet were game changers. Advancements in information technology created new industries, eliminated or downsized others, and changed the way we do business forever.
Because of this, many of us naturally assumed that the future of skills training (and retraining) meant more computers and more STEM. However, new findings cast doubt on what has been conventional wisdom for two decades, causing some HR professionals to ask: Is more tech and more STEM the answer? And, what skills are the right skills? As an example, let’s look at two industries profoundly affected by advancements in IT: Manufacturing and software development.
A recent survey of manufacturers found that the most sought-after skill for customer service and help desk agents was higher level writing. For technicians on the floor is was higher level reading.
Similarly, for software help desk technicians (the second largest IT position in the country), only 15% of jobs required a deep understanding of actual programming. Again, higher level writing skills were the most sought-after.
In both industries, only one-third of workers required any higher level math skills such as algebra or statistics, demonstrating that skills requirements are not distributed equally across the workforce. That means it is up to employers to design roles that fit the proficiencies of their employees, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to training and retraining initiatives.
So when we talk about training, we have to be sure that we are talking about the right training without making assumptions about what we think our employees need. It turns out that not all training means more computers and STEM.
For America’s young people, education has become a year-round affair.
As noted elsewhere, fewer and fewer of America’s youth, both at the high school and college levels, are choosing to work summer or holiday jobs. This trend has led some writers to proclaim (and even lament) the “Death of the Summer Job.”
But this only tells us half the story, because America’s youth haven’t been filling their time with more leisure, they are filling it with more education. American students have learned that in today’s competitive, high-cost educational environment that summer classes as well as specialized training and certification programs are a better investment than the income and experience gained from short-term seasonal employment.
In fact, this is beginning to become a year-round phenomenon as students opt for more specialized and highly skilled technical fields that require more extensive education and training.
Employers, especially small to medium-sized ones, don’t have the luxury to ignore these trends as they compete for the same talent against large employers with multi-million dollar training and development budgets and the allure of continued education.
To adapt to this trend employers should begin to think about how they can offer educational or learning experiences to new employees. Employers should offer opportunities and support for workers looking to expand their skills – one close personal friend who works in manufacturing is receiving paid time off and a small stipend from his employer to obtain a certain OSHA certification. And employers must be prepared for when their workers elect to return to school to further their education, because with the right policies in place, business owners and HR professionals can incentivize the return of a highly skilled and newly trained employee.
We’ve all heard the adage that “it’s easier to get a job if you have a job.” If you are not
working currently and also feel you are not making real progress by just sending out resumes, finding temporary employment through a reputable staffing agency may be just what you need to jump-start your job search.
There are many good reasons for a job seeker to turn to temporary employment. Possibly you plan to start school (or are still in school) and simply cannot commit to something for the long-term. Maybe you are moving to a different city and need income while you get settled and make new connections. In fact, one of the most common reasons candidates choose temping is that it can be a great way to enter the workforce, especially if you have little to no work experience. It is also a terrific way to learn new skills, gain experience and make valuable connections.
Here are some common objections to pursuing a temporary position, and my responses to them.
Why should I take a position with an end date attached to it?
Temporary jobs aren’t always so temporary. In fact, many times you can keep the position for as long as you want. Also, when working with a staffing agency, you may be able to secure a new temp assignments so that you experience little to no gaps in your employment. There is also the often overlooked fact that temporary jobs can often lead to permanent employment! Employers who are looking for temporary workers are, by definition, in need of more help, so if you can prove yourself to be a valuable asset during the term of your contract, many companies will choose to keep you on permanently. This happens routinely at JobGiraffe.
Should I take a job without health insurance, a pension plan or paid vacation time?
It is true that companies frequently do not offer benefits to temporary employees because, as a temporary worker, you are simply not eligible for them. However, many temporary agencies are beginning to add benefits options for their temp workers, and due to recent changes in the law you may now be eligible for benefits offered through state healthcare exchanges. New options (available through the ACA) make it easier than ever to pick up a health plan in the private market, often at reduced or subsidized cost. As for the ability to add to a pension plan, it’s true you will not participate in one while temping, but by working temp you will still be making contributions to your social security account through payroll taxes (FICA) and you will have the ability to make contributions to an existing (or new) IRA account – and both are just as important to your future as having a defined pension program through an employer. As for not receiving vacation time (this is a very common myth), at JobGiraffe, and many other staffing agencies, you can accrue paid vacation time even as you work in temporary positions.
Won’t a temp job look bad on my resume?
Having temporary work in your background is 100% more beneficial than having unexplained gaps in your work history. Most employers have themselves worked temp at some point in their own career or have used temporary workers in their business. They understand that it is simply a fact of life in today’s labor market. Also, don’t think that just because it’s temp work it’s not a valuable experience. Temp positions are often available because an employer requires a very specific set of skills or expertise at a given moment. Highlighting the accomplishments of your temp position is no less important than highlighting experienced gained through a full-time “permanent” position. Never sell yourself or any of the experience you have accumulated short!
Taking a temporary job also reflects well upon your work ethic and your openness to take on new challenges. The adage that “it’s easier to get a job when you have a job” is still around for a reason. Having large gaps in your work history for no specific reason is considered by most hiring managers – rightly or wrongly – as a big potential red flag.
Hopefully I’ve dispelled some of the myths surrounding temporary employment and also touched on many of the benefits: learning new skills, making connections, achieving specific or tangible goals, etc.
Temporary jobs may not be for everyone, but in my opinion they should be seen as an important tool in your toolbox. If you’re looking for work, or want to change your employment situation, talking to a staffing agency about a temp position is a great way to “create your own good luck” and become a more engaged and proactive job seeker.
by Ben Horwitz, Communications Director, JobGiraffe
On the first Friday of every month we are all reminded of the most well known economic measurements: job creation, unemployment, wage growth, etc. These reports give us a glimpse into the well-being of the US Economy. Buried in these numbers is a wealth of information relevant to everyone, but especially valuable to individuals in the recruiting and staffing community. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of these figures: the “quits rate.” (The quits rate is measured in the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS Report)
The quits rate is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the “number of quits during the entire month as a percent of total employment.” In short, the quits rate measures how many workers voluntarily leave their job in a given time period. Typically, people leave their current position when they are fairly confident that they can find a new or better one. Therefore, a growing quits rate is often an indicator of a strengthening labor market with more choices for workers.
How has the quits rate changed in recent years? Well, it’s growing, which is consistent with a labor market that is slowly but surely gaining strength. At the end of 2015 the national quits rate stood at 2.1%. In 2013 and 2011 it was 1.7% and 1.5% respectively. In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, that number stood at a dismal 1.3%. In order to find a quits rate as robust as today’s one would have to back over a decade to 2004, well before the recession.
So why is this important to recruiting and staffing professionals? In short, if the quits rate is high, there are likely to be more highly placeable/employable job seekers on the market, because applicants with recent work experience are often the easiest to place. However, it also means that we must work harder to find candidates the right position, one that goes beyond meeting their most basic requirements, and offers them a chance to feel fulfilled, have opportunities for growth and love what they do. Because if we don’t, the data show that they will be less afraid to walk away from that position and find a new opportunity. Therefore, the high quits rate is something that every recruiting and staffing professional should be aware of, and take into account in their work.
*As a percentage of total separations – including “involuntary” separations (i.e. layoffs and firings) – the numbers are 60% for 2015, 59% for 2013, 49% for 2011 and 41% for 2009, which is consistent with the overall trend towards higher voluntary separation or “quits.”
by Andrew Horwitz, Director of Strategy & Planning, JobGiraffe
JobGiraffe has been in the business of finding great jobs for great candidates for many years in every type of job market imaginable. Although I do not hail back to it s beginnings in the 60’s, I know with certainty that 2009 to 2013 was one of the toughest job markets for our company on record. Over the past twelve months we have all been hearing “things are getting better”, so I believe now is the time to take a deeper look at the data and trends affecting employment across the country and, specifically, in our own Chicago Metropolitan Area.
We can utilize this information to analyze the job market’s relative strengths and potential weaknesses in an attempt to identify future opportunities as well as potential pitfalls. In order to even try to give this complex and multi-faceted topic the depth and nuance it deserves, this will be the first in a series of several posts attempting to unpack and put into context some of the key metrics used to understand the economy and the labor market. Hopefully, through this exploration, we can find both meaning and tangible, actionable intelligence in the data.
The national unemployment rate provides a rather rudimentary and often unsatisfying snapshot of the national employment situation, but it’s a useful starting point. As of February 2015, the most recent data available, the unemployment rate currently stands at 5.5%. It’s important to note that the unemployment rate has been relatively consistent in its erosion. In February 2010, February 2011, February 2012, February 2013, and February 2014 respectively, the rates were 9.8, 9.0, 8.3, 7.7, and 6.7 percent.
Another useful – and in my opinion, more telling – indicator is the ratio of unemployed individuals to job openings. As of January 2015, there was a modest 1.8 unemployed individuals actively seeking work for every available job. To put this in perspective, in June of 2009, when the recession technically ended, there were 6.2 unemployed persons per job opening.  The number of total job openings and new hires have also increased, illustrating how the job market is picking up steam. This January, there were 5 million total job openings, which exceeds the pre-recession highs. 4.5 million of these openings were in the private sector. The pre-recession highs for total openings in the private sector was surpassed in April 2014. Yet the number of total hires, 4.7 million in January 2015, was still 3.4 percent below their pre-recession level. 
The voluntary quit rate, a good indicator of positive career mobility, rose to 2 percent in January, as 2.8 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs. The prevailing wisdom is that individuals leave their current job with the anticipation of greener pastures, and this is the highest level of voluntary quits, as a percentage of total separations, since April 2008. Even through a conservative and cautious interpretation of this data, its pretty clear that more gainful and promising employment is getting easier to attain for most.
However, there are still some persisting structural issues within the composition of the labor force. The labor force participation rate rests at 62.8 percent, according to the most recent BLS data from 2015. To put this in context, the labor force participation rate stood at 63 percent in February 2014, 64.9 percent in February 2010, and 66.3 percent in 2007, prior to the recession. The labor force participation rate is defined as the percentage of ‘working age persons’ (between 16-64 years old) who are either employed or are unemployed, but looking for a job. Part of this decline in the labor force participation rate can be attributed to the demographic shifts caused by an aging population as baby-boomers retire and drop out of the labor force. However, many individuals at or approaching retirement age were pushed into an involuntary, early retirement due to the economic circumstances during and after the recession. There are still many “missing workers,” people of prime working age that have actively given up pursuing employment due to their frustrations in finding a job. While many of these potential members of the workforce might return to actively pursuing employment when they feel that their prospects for landing a job have improved, many “missing workers” may never find their way back to the workforce.
Underemployment and involuntary part-time employment are two other pesky remnants of the recession. It is encouraging that there has been some long-overdue improvement in the numbers regarding involuntary part-time employment recently. The household survey data, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates that the number of individuals who are involuntary working part-time decreased by 175,000 in February 2015, and 570,000 in the past year. Underemployment is a measure of labor utilization that combines the percentage of the labor force that is ‘highly skilled,’ but is working in ‘low skilled jobs,’ with the percentage of part-time workers that would prefer to be working full-time.  The underemployment rate stands at a concerning 16.2 percent in February 2015, but is down from 17.5 percent in February 2014. 
Long-term unemployment produces some of the most deleterious effects on a country’s economy and its long-run fiscal health. When individuals are unemployed for a period of six months or longer they find it progressively more difficult to be selected for interviews as their resumes are more readily passed over, often due to the unfair negative stigmas employers associate with being unemployed. Long-term unemployment squeezes budgets from both ends as tax revenues drop from fewer people contributing to payroll and income taxes, while benefits payments go up as those same people draw on various unemployment benefits. Strained budgets, especially at the state level, have the added effect of making it more difficult to re-train workers with new skills, and thereby ease their transition back into the workplace. Inevitably, strained budgets also lead to cuts in discretionary state spending, which not only saps public sector job growth, but can have spillover effects negatively influencing private sector job growth as well.
Historically, employment security in the US has not been as strong as it is in country’s like Japan or Germany. However, the United States in recent decades has had a less sticky and more fluid, dynamic job market. Americans found it much easier to quickly find new jobs, and rates of long-term unemployment were modest when compared to other OECD countries. Our experience with long-term unemployment changed after the recession. Currently, 31.1 percent of unemployed jobseekers have been out of work 27 weeks or longer, a number that is twice as high than it was at the beginning of the recession. The number of long-term unemployed remains at around 2.7 million. The good news is that the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.1 million year over year, so progress on this front is encouraging.
By in large, the headwinds that were tempering economic growth in the post-recession economy either are or are starting to subside, and the tailwinds created by a more structurally sound economy are taking hold. This is reflected in these numbers, which clearly support the notion that the job market is improving, but is not yet fully healed. National employment figures tell us only part of the story. One characteristic of the nation’s recovery that cannot be overlooked is how growth in the post-recession economy has not been uniform, and outcomes have varied throughout the county – a topic we will explore further in future posts. The next post will focus on the relative strength of Chicago’s market as we delve into how our beloved city has fared.
Thank you for your readership and stay tuned.
Director of Strategy and Planning
 United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. 29 Mar 2015.
 U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights.” January 2015. P.1
 U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights.” January 2015. P.2
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 Bloomberg News. “More Job Openings Move Needle on Yellen Dashboard: Economy.” 10 Mar 2015.
 United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. 29 Mar 2015.
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 Casselman, Ben. FiveThirtyEight. “More of the Long-Term Unemployed are Finding a Job.” 29 Dec 2014.
 Baker, Dean. Center For Economic and Policy Research. “Job Growth Remains Strong in February.” 6 Mar 2015.