Business Columns & Blogs

Low unemployment rate signals recruiting difficulty

Low unemployment rates generally are a good thing – but not when they bring on the warm-body syndrome.

Whenever an area’s unemployment rate shrinks, hirers moan that they’re practically forced to hire any warm body that shows up. Gone are the days when they could be ultraselective. Now they just need somebody, anybody to fill a job.

That typically doesn’t go well. Many remaining job hunters lack the skills, experience or other qualities truly needed to fill openings.

Granted, there are qualified applicants out there and, with luck and the right connections, good matches are made. But a report released in June by the Society for Human Resource Management said the search for qualified workers is challenging.

More than half of hirers surveyed for the society said they are finding deficits in basic skills or knowledge among job applicants.

Recruiting difficulty is “reaching levels not seen in years,” said Jen Schramm, manager of the society’s workforce trends and forecasting program.

This warm-body syndrome occurs in cycles. The last one was in 2006-2007. But then one of the deepest, most stunning economic collapses since the Great Depression hit, followed by the Great Recession and the “jobless recovery.”

A hallmark of that recovery was that employers who had cut training budgets or eliminated them didn’t restore them. Now, said Schramm, “this is putting more emphasis on both the need for investing in employee training and education.”

That can be done in partnerships with government agencies and schools, and indeed there is focus on developing “talent pipelines,” especially for high-tech jobs in many communities. But the training that’s available – typically for low-skill or disadvantaged workers – isn’t helping some of the most crucial needs cited by hirers.

The Society for Human Resource Management survey found the highest level of recruiting difficulty in the health, social assistance and manufacturing industries. Recruiting was said to be particularly difficult for high-skill medical jobs. That’s not a skill that can be attained in a six-week worker development program. It’s a skill that has to be present in the candidate from day one on the job.

Among smaller organizations in the survey, filling full-time manager and skilled trade positions was listed as the most challenging task. Why? The hirers cited a smaller number of applicants, candidates without work experience, competition from other employers, candidates’ lack of technical skills and a dearth of qualified applicants in their local markets.

That’s another thing about the “recovered” job market: Employers are far less likely to recruit beyond locally and have little desire to pay relocation expenses.

It’s a bit ironic that the best recruiting tip to emerge from the recent survey was to train current employees to take on the hard-to-fill jobs.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star., 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford,