It almost seems like part of a grand plan to keep future generations from the middle class, doesn't it? Claim that there's a massive skills gap that requires more education, then watch people pay through the noses to send themselves and their children to college, taking on massive debt in the process. Make those educational loans impossible to pay off, and you have an entire class of deadbeats with lousy credit ratings who have to take whatever shit you want to shovel out.
As the spouse of a truly crackerjack network support guy who is now in the "struggling to get even contract work" stage of his career, I've seen the laundry list of qualifications that companies put out first-hand. And as someone who was laid off in 2008 at the age of 53 and spent some time looking at ads for web developers, I've also seen it. Mr. Brilliant routinesly sees ads with laundry lists of over twenty "mandatory" qualifications, most of them completely unrelated. An ad might ask for someone with experience as a network administrator, desktop support specialist (ok so far), C# programmer (uh-oh), with experience with AJAX, Ruby on Rails, and ten years of experience with Drupal (which would mean you'd have to have started with Drupal at its inception). And oh yes, you also have to have experience in Web design, which means you also need to be a commercial artist with Photoshop, InDesign, and FinalCut Pro.
The person with these qualifications does not exist, but that doesn't stop HR departments from adhering to the If We Just Look Long Enough We'll Find This Perfect Person doctrine.
Peter Capelli, a Wharton School of Business professor, explains
Employers are not looking to hire entry-level applicants right out of school. They want experienced candidates who can contribute immediately with no training or start-up time. That’s certainly understandable, but the only people who can do that are those who have done virtually the same job before, and that often requires a skill set that, in a rapidly changing world, may die out soon after it is perfected.
One of my favorite examples of the absurdity of this requirement was a job advertisement for a cotton candy machine operator – not a high-skill job – which required that applicants “demonstrate prior success in operating cotton candy machines.” The most perverse manifestation of this approach is the many employers who now refuse to take applicants from unemployed candidates, the rationale being that their skills must be getting rusty.
Another way to describe the above situation is that employers don’t want to provide any training for new hires — or even any time for candidates to get up to speed. A 2011 Accenture survey found that only 21% of U.S. employees had received any employer-provided formal training in the past five years. Does it make sense to keep vacancies unfilled for months to avoid having to give new hires with less-than-perfect skills time to get up to speed?
Employers further complicated the hiring process by piling on more and more job requirements, expecting that in a down market a perfect candidate will turn up if they just keep looking. One job seeker I interviewed in my own research described her experience trying to land “one post that has gone unfilled for nearly a year, asking the candidate to not only be the human resources expert but the marketing, publishing, project manager, accounting and finance expert. When I asked the employer if it was difficult to fill the position, the response was ‘yes but we want the right fit.’”
Another factor that contributes to the perception of a skills gap is that most employers now use software to handle job applications, adding rigidity to the process that screens out all but the theoretically perfect candidate. Most systems, for example, now ask potential applicants what wage they are seeking — and toss out those who put down a figure higher than the employer wants. That’s hardly a skill problem. Meanwhile, applicants are typically assessed almost entirely on prior experience and credentials, and a failure to meet any one of the requirements leads to elimination. One manager told me that in his company 25,000 applicants had applied for a standard engineering job, yet none were rated as qualified. How could that be? Just put in enough of these yes/no requirements and it becomes mathematically unlikely that anyone will get through.
Want to know how I got my current job after being laid off? One of my colleagues, who wasn't laid off, had a friend who worked for my current employer. She asked this person to look at the internal job board and see if there was anything there. The friend sent a job description, and I decided to apply.
I had to apply to one of the online job application systems that most employers use these days. I was completely unable to get my information into this system, which would not accept my salary as a valid entry. After about a half-dozen tries and near tears with frustration, I sent my resume to my colleague's friend, who got it to the hiring manager. The position I was applying for was already filled, but there was another for which the hiring manager wanted me to apply -- using that same online job application system.
Somehow I managed to get the application through, and I got the interview.
I remember two things about this interview: the number of times I answered "No....Nope...No, we had a guy who did that...No.....No, we didn't do that", and when I answered the global head of the group's question about where I wanted to be in five years "Still alive, still healthy, and still employed" -- since I'd figured out by this point that the whole enterprise was a waste of my time.
As it turned out, the group that I was applying to was being built almost from scratch, and to this day I believe that my main qualifications, despite what was on the jub description, was possessing a brain and a pulse.
This was August 2008 -- a month before the economy went through the crapper.
I visualize my experience sort of like those scenes you always see in Titanic documentaries of the engine room guy who gets out of the flooding watertight compartment just as the door is closing. But get out I did.
Of course once I started, I was pretty much on my own, and when I look back at the steep learning curve I had, I'm amazed that I made it at all, never mind scoring a promotion and some pretty nice raises over the next three years. But there's one indisputable fact: The reason I got this job was because I was able to bypass the automatic resume-rejecting submission services that companies use. The reason I was considered for this job was my employer's commitment to training. My own initiative is only responsible for me having done well at this job. Everything else was because I knew someone who knew someone.
There is no skills gap in this country. There is no shortage of people who are willing to learn and willing to work hard. There is, however, a prevailing attitude among those in a position to hire people that investing in people is a waste of money. There's a perception that there's no reward in investing in people. And that is why there's this constant race to the bottom, to ever-lower-wage-paying countries. There's no amount of education an individual can go into debt for that will change that.
Labels: greed, R.I.P. American Middle Class, Teh Stoopid