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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Contra Temps

If you're out of work, then you're probably as sick and tired as me of being given the runaround, an attitude from kids too young to remember the New Kids on the Block who work at temp agencies or being lied to. Time again, I get called by temp agencies, agencies who, knowing how unpopular they are, lure unwary unemployed folks like me into wasting our time and energy by hiding their identity.

I just spoke to a Latina chickie with whom I'd had words last year when I was given the runaround back then. After she'd killed just about the last of my cell phone minutes by telling me how I'm not qualified to work in a QC lab with polymers (I've worked for years in QC and years more in other places making plastics but not at the same time), she abruptly ended the conversation because she remembered me having "dissed" her.

This is what I said: Temp agencies (euphemistically known nowadays as "staffing agencies") are a waste of time. The higher the unemployment rate, the snottier and pickier their clients get. The clients, up until a decade ago, had no choice but to take whomever the agency sent. Nowadays, without actually risking anything by being in the hiring process, they insist on insinuating themselves in the interview process and won't even talk to you unless you have 30-40 years of job experience, three sheepskins from Ivy League universities and, while it's not exactly a prerequisite, it would also help if you can tap dance on water.

They're essentially telling the temp agencies, "I don't trust your judgment and insist on bogging down what used to be a streamlined process without actually risking anything." In essence, they're making the temp agencies, who used to be the weeding out process, completely redundant and they'd save a pile of money by simply hiring these people directly instead of going through an agency they plainly don't trust. Why don't they just eliminate the middle man?

But just try telling this to airheads as the one at this last temp agency. They call it being "dissed" even though what I'm saying is true: The process is so cumbersome, so inefficient, it takes guys like me longer to make money, it takes the staffing agencies longer to make money because of this pickiness and the clients' orders go nowhere, hence their own customers suffer because the orders aren't getting done or invoiced. But explaining to them what's obvious to the rest of us is considered harassment.

I've never liked temp agencies even when the process was streamlined. They use you for a week or two then they jerk you out of a placement and, after promising to be in touch, you never hear from them again.

Now they're simply impossible to work with or work for. The emphasis is tilted toward their clients, the ones who deny them revenue, and not at all to we the workers, the ones who MAKE them the money. If you respond to an ad in good faith and someone from a staffing agency calls you up, tell them what I just told you and tell them Robert sent you just before you hang up on them. Shit's got to change and more and more companies are looking at training as a mere drain on their bottom line and they expect you to hit the ground running and fly-by-night outfits like the one with which I'd just spoken and other "staffing agencies" are merely fostering that self-destructive mindset. What's going to happen when the current experienced work force dies off, retires or moves on? Who'll take their place?

Now, perhaps, you'd be tempted to say, you'd be best served if you just shut your big, fucking pie hole, JP, and just take what was offered. And ordinarily, you'd be right. In normal times, you'd be able to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. However, the flies in this case ain't buying no matter what you put out for them.

Being polite and patient has gotten me nowhere. Polite or strident, patient or impatient, I've been told time and again by one temp agency after another that I wasn't good enough or experienced enough or educated enough to hold down jobs I've held down and at which I made a good name for myself years ago. After going on ten unemployed months of unending rejection, you, too, would reach your limit and would start giving people a piece or two of your mind.

The problem is that with the unemployment rate officially at 9.7% (unofficially, it's closer to 17-20% nationwide), companies offering these 3 million scarce jobs are raising qualification standards to stratospheric levels and they feel they can afford to shrink their strike zone down to the size of a subatomic particle. I've worked in Class 10,000 clean rooms assembling medical devices. But not long enough. I've worked in QC for years. But not with the right product, despite basic ISO standards and protocols covering a wide array of manufacturing.

Last September 9th, I interviewed for a cashiering job even though I have retail management experience with two other C store chains and when I got the rejection letter from the 12 year-old who interviewed me, I was told that I was underqualified for the $10 ph clerk job for which I was vastly overqualified because they found somebody who was even more qualified than me. Despite my management experience going back to a day in which my interviewer wasn't even a hardon in her Daddy's pants (Her Dad owned the franchise, btw).

In other words, I was told I was simultaneously both overqualified and underqualified for the same low-paying, dead-end, shit job. I am literally in a situation in which I cannot win.

Meanwhile, after being given the runaround by one employer/temp agency after another for close to a year about how I'm not perfectly, exactly, precisely what they're looking for, that I'm not quite good enough or knowledgeable enough, I get in cabs where the drivers need a GPS to get me a mile and a half down the road, non-English-speaking morons get my order wrong at Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds and temp workers call me up to tell me I'm not good enough, after all, because they know their clients refuse to waste even five seconds of their precious time interviewing a guy with a long and solid work history.

Pissed off? Me?

The Quality Control job to which I'd alluded earlier was one that I'd earned through hard work on the floor at my next-to-last job. I was promoted from within after working TDY in the QC lab crunching numbers and doing wall thickness tests with Vernier calipers. The company, in fact, aggressively pursued me when a high ranking acquisitions engineer from Boeing, a great sports-loving, slap-happy mountain of a man named Bernie Everett, personally requested they promote me to get a crucial sixth set of eyes in the lab to handle the extra business Boeing was prepared to throw our way.

Others from off the street were interviewed but the HR Director told me in confidence that none of them had a chance regardless of their experience or skills. The job was always mine, due to my Boeing friend's initiatives.

Now, despite all that I learned working for an ISO 9000 company in the airline/aerospace/automotive/medical device industry, in spite of my qualification to work in many other forms of fabrication, suddenly I'm not even qualified for even an entry level QC position at two bucks an hour less than I made 8 years ago. I've applied for kennel jobs, dishwashing jobs, cashier jobs, jobs so far beneath me and my skill set that it almost physically hurt to remind myself at how far I've fallen.

And I get ignored almost every time, except when contacted by a temp agency who only called because they momentarily forgot who I was and where I'm coming from.

What's the answer? Hell, if I knew, folks, I'd probably be sitting in a corner office somewhere pulling down 6 figures a year as a consultant. But the answer will not come from Obama, the Democrats, certainly not Republicans who bark "Tax cuts" or "Drill, baby, drill!" when asked for their input on anything.

We live in dark times that only the very aged remember ever having seen, an age in which no one cares how long you've been out of work or how little you make on your dwindling unemployment or at much your self-respect has been eroded by going for jobs for which you're vastly overqualified and either being told you're still underqualified or being ignored. That's because there's no collective sense of responsibility because everyone is trapped in their own skin. You are the only common denominator, the only repository for constant, neverending failure and rejection. And they do not wish to hear your desperate pleas for a chance, let alone your criticism of how inefficient the process has become.

Economic experts are forecasting that the unemployment rate will hover at double digits for several years running, a fact that, to my way of thinking, qualifies as a depression. Jobs that we used to do and do well, jobs to which we were promoted from within and for which we were trained, are now suddenly unavailable or unattainable. The gulf between qualifications and what employers are prepared to pay you for them in return has gotten wider than the Grand Canyon.

And there's no end in sight.

Usually, I would end this blog post by making a pithy observation or proposing a possible commonsensical solution to a problem I've addressed.

But answers and words fail me now.
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Anonymous mandt said...
Absolutely right on! Same experience here. Even with years of experience, a handful of grad degrees and umtine tweaks of the resume I found that the usual 'overqualified' simply meant that anyone over fifty, who might qualify for the company health plan was eliminated. The final straw for me came when I got rejected as an assistant to the associate funeral director in our town----yep, because I was overqualified."

Anonymous randys said...
The ONLY qualification that matters: You're over 50.

But surely you must know the following incontrovertible fact known by every HR person [and temp agency flunky] and most hiring managers:: No one born and educated in America can ever be as smart or well qualified for ANY position as one born and educated in South Asia or one who has entered the US illegally from anywhere. Even if you're willing to work for $.50 per day and accept the daily flogging...

Blogger Chief said...
I am a retired federal employee. I know the federal system is difficult to navigate, but if you are interested in investigating/pursuing that avenue, I will provide all the info I have.

Blogger Chief said...
I never did like this way of leaving a comment. I cannot be sure if the one I tried to leave, was left or if it timed out.

Anyway, I don't know if you have considered working for the federal gov't. I am a retired federal employee and am willing to help you if you wish to look into Fed employment.

Blogger Nan said...
Ageism in action.

I'll second the suggestion to try the federal government if there's anyway at all that might be an option for you.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I'm crazy.

Two words about temp agencies, one "lie," two "bribe."

An application to a temp agency should be framed exactly like all of the lying ads on TV or any other place. They want a such and such, file an application with exactly the same qualifications.
Lie, there is nothing going to happen.

If you are broke and absolutely have to "go temp," bribe.

The person who interviews the cold call applicant who just walks into any employment agency will be interviewed by the last interviewer hired.

They don't waste time or money letting you talk to someone who could appreciate your skills.

The interviewer will be very poorly paid.

On the cold call application, put the least amount that you could possibly live on, even if it is $8 per hour, but tell the interviewer that you will pay the interviewer $100 if they get you pay at $12 per hour, $200 if you get paid $15 per hour.

That this will be paid promptly at the end of each month of employment.

That is why I had a job filing papers that a person with a third grade education could have done quite well.

Job lasted 6 months at $18 an hour.

I have no qualms.

What is going to happen if you follow these two rules?

Nothing. They are not going to call, if you think they will call previous employers, buy a friend a cell phone and have that number to call to answer questions about your experience.

My experience is that they never call the people in large corporations because human resources will only say, "we do not give out information on employees, past or present."

The worst that they will do if you offer a bribe is get huffy and say, "This interview is over" and walk you to the door.

If you can handle the stress, go to work at a temp agency yourself and then pick the job that offers the most and is a full time job.

Companies that use temp agencies tend to go through the temp agency for real hires.

Go over as an interviewee for the position, then quit the temp agency.

Blogger Susan said...
I agree with you completely. I have pared down my resume to remove my graduate degree and my first 2 decades of employment in an effort to look younger and less "qualified" as I am aiming lower and lower. But the application tends to out me as over 50. Plus, I do not have tech skills or background which minimizes my options.

I have been hard at the search for a year. Staffing agengies have been useless for me as well. I think they find me intimidating because they know I am so much more qualified for everything than they are...

I am going to end up a bag lady at this rate.

Blogger jurassicpork said...

I don't have a college degree (I just play a smart guy on the internet) but, like you, I've pared down my own resume to highlight my experience in customer service/quality control. Still, my last three jobs alone go back almost 20 years and that alone guarantees I'll be betrayed as being at least in my early 40's.

And, yeah, it's agesim. It doesn't matter that I have the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 to protect me against these twinks that are interviewing me because these cocksuckers know all they have to do it not openly declare their bias. You can't prove a state of mind or a prejudice if it's not openly declared, thereby rendering any civil rights act impotent.