Adventures in human resources

"Why can't I find qualified help?"

"With all of the unemployed people out there, why can't I find the skills I'm looking for?"

These are questions we hear every day from industry employers. And with unemployment rates ranging upward from 7.5% since early 2009, they're not illogical. So what's the reality?

Simply stated, there have been a number of changes in the employment market since we entered the Great Recession, and hiring managers today need to be aware of them in order to compete.

As our industry entered the downturn, we began to see a "talent gap" emerge as the skill sets of those seeking employment often fell short of employers' requirements. This was not totally unexpected, as the first baby boomers moved into early retirement as we entered the recession.

And since our industry was more negatively impacted by the economy than most, this problem was exacerbated by another reality. With layoffs and downsizing, many of our younger, upwardly mobile employees left for opportunities in more secure, growth-oriented industries.

But with the unemployment rate being so high, shouldn't there be others just waiting to be hired? Unfortunately no, as there is yet another issue compounding the problem. Although difficult to believe, adult men have been dropping out of the workforce at an alarming rate. While more than 95% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 were active in the labor force 50 years ago, according to the BLS, less than 65% are active now.

So where have they gone? Many are on extended unemployment, many on long-term disability (more than 3 million men, according to one source), and many have just given up and become dependent on their wives' income or content with part-time positions. In the accompanying graphs, one can see how labor force participation has remained somewhat constant for all adults over the past 20 years, but note what has happened to adult male participation.

The reality? The "labor pool" in 2013 isn't as deep as one might think. So, as we begin to rebuild our employment base, we need to be creative and look beyond traditional recruiting scenarios, considering other options: part-time executives, contract and project employment, shared employees, virtual management, etc. And we need to consider the entire employment market, not just the "typical" candidates we considered exclusively in the past. Remember, with this smaller "labor pool," recruiting has become a competitive process. We need to make sure we're prepared for it.

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