Tag Archives: Unemployment

Forget the Skills Deficit: How About Filling Open Jobs?

data point tuesday_500

So the unemployment rate went up a little in May, from 7.5% to 7.6%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics deems this increase as “essentially unchanged.” Despite 175,000 more people working. How does this math work?

I’ve written about the how the unemployment rate in the U.S. is determined here and here. But here’s another slice of data to consider. It’s the number of job openings. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) published each month alongside the unemployment numbers, shares really interesting data each month. Along with the data about quits and hires, are data about job openings. Fascinating. Really.

JOLTS June 2013

So, although there were 3,757,000 job openings in April (down 118,000 from March, or “little changed” as the BLS describes it) the difference between hires and total separations was just 146,000 month over month. So on the surface, a net of 175,000 new jobs is curious.

More curious is matching the number of job openings to the number of unemployed people by industry. Economist Heidi Shierholz published a piece for the Economic Policy Institute last week that shows in stark relief that unemployed workers still significantly outnumber job openings in every major sector.  Based on analysis of the JOLTS and other data, the following chart is a snapshot of current job openings numbers by industry and the numbers of unemployed workers in those industries. It’s rather eye popping and raises lots of questions.

Unemployed far outstrips available jobs June 2013

Ouch! So think about this data when you read about employers not being able to find the right skills for their openings. Is it really skills they can’t find? Or something else? How hard are they looking? What BFOQs are they using that overlook millions of job seekers?

Curious, yes?

There are so many data points around employment, job openings, quits, hires, workers, unemployed workers, discouraged job seekers, skills, education levels, education spending… The data points come from bonafide sources (like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and  the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce), quasi bonafide sources with bias (like the Economic Policy Institute, SHRM, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AARP), vendor sponsored research and white papers, and millions of blogs and other media sources.

Lots of sources. Lots of data points. Lots of analysis. Lots of conflicting findings and conclusions.

The best we can do is be pro-active in finding sources that are transparent about their data and analysts who seem unbiased. And then be persistent in looking at all sides of an issue and smart in believing what you read.

On the issues of skills, jobs and unemployment, though, it seems that we don’t know what we’re doing. We may not even really know what the truth is. Except this:  we’ve got to do better at matching job openings with available talent. It’s clear that we haven’t figured this out. Not government, not business/employers, not education providers, not workers, not vendors, not recruiters.

Forget the skills deficit. What about filling the open the jobs?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Economic Policy Institute, Employment Data, HR Data, Job Creation, SHRM, Skills Shortage, Structural Unemployment, U.S. Department of Labor, Unemployment

7.8% Huh?

Most people saw the U.S. jobs report numbers on Friday and thought, “this doesn’t make sense.”   All the data we’ve been seeing shows that employment continues to be weak and job seekers continue to drop out of the job market.

Monster’s Employment Index for September showed a 2 point decline month-over-month:

That’s a decline in U.S. online job posting activity.  This would indicate a slowdown in hiring not a hiring urge of massive proportions.

The Glassdoor Q3 Employment Confidence Survey shows a pretty strong worsening of confidence on the part of job seekers that they’ll find a job in the next six months:

This wouldn’t indicate that job seekers see people around them getting jobs.  And 59% of employed people don’t think they could replace their job in six months.  Six months!

So what’s the deal with the massive reduction in the unemployment rate from 8.1% to 7.8%?  Well, as I wrote here, the official BLS unemployment rate combines data from two surveys conducted by the U.S. government:  The Establishment Survey which surveys employers and the Household Survey which surveys thousands of households on a range of topics including employment.  The two surveys tell two very different stories in September.

Here’s the Establishment Survey portion of the jobs report from the BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics):

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 114,000 in September. In 2012, employment growth has averaged 146,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.

So we’re down from the monthly average in both 2011 and 2012.  And the monthly average in 2011 was higher than this year’s monthly average.  Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 114,000 in September.  That isn’t enough to cover the new entrants into the labor force – much less hundreds of thousands of unemployed job seekers.

The Household Survey tells a different story:

Total employment rose by 873,000 in September, following 3 months of little change. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.7 percent, after edging down in the prior 2 months. The overall trend in the employment-population ratio for this year has been flat. The civilian labor force rose by 418,000 to 155.1 million in September, while the labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.6 percent.

So.  Total employment – as reported by individuals not employers – rose by 873,000 in September following “three months of little change.”  Despite declining confidence in almost every other survey we see, 873,000 people reported working in September who weren’t working in August.  It boggles the mind.

Here’s where those jobs came from:

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) rose from 8.0 million in August to 8.6 million in September. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

Part-timers.  600,000 new part-timers.  Part-timers who could be working as little as a couple of hours a week from home. Truly, it boggles the mind.

This is all very confusing.  We’re covered over in statistics, trends and data that tell us that the employment picture is stagnant at best.  Confidence in the job market continues to decline. And the unemployment rate went down .3% in one month.

I’m with Jack Welch:  I can’t connect these dots.

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecting Dots, Employment Data, Glassdoor, HR Data, Jack Welch, Monster, U.S. Department of Labor, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Low Employment vs. High Unemployment Around the World

As we prepare to attract, develop and retain skilled workers around the world, who works and who doesn’t work is interesting to me.  So I thought I’d share the following charts that I ran across in a collection of statistics published by the International Labor Comparisons Division of the BLS.  The first shows a comparison of the employment population ratios (proportion of the working-age population that is employed) by sex in 16 countries, adjusted to U.S. concepts.

According to the BLS definitions, employment includes all people who:

  1. worked at least 1 hour as paid employees, working in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked at least 15 hours as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise, and
  2. all those who did not work but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent due to vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management disputes, job training, or other family or personal reasons, regardless of whether they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.

(Actually, I don’t know which is more interesting, the definition of employment above or the chart that follows…)

It’s interesting to note the differences in employment percentages  between men and women. Turkey (40.7),  Mexico (33.4), the Republic of Korea (22.4) and Japan (22) all have differences of 20 points or more between the sexes’ employment rates, and Italy (19.5) is right there as well.  Those are big gaps.

But add this to the mix:  there doesn’t appear to be a strong correlation between these low employment rates of women and the overall national unemployment rates.  See the chart below:

It intuitively makes sense that South Africa with the lowest percentage of women employed in the workforce would also have the highest overall unemployment rate.  However the relationship between these two data points isn’t as consistent as we might assume across other countries.

Look at the data for Mexico, Japan and Korea.  They all report low employment rates for women and low overall unemployment rates.  Not so intuitive.

That’s what I enjoy about people related statistics.  Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the data throw you curve ball.

What do you think the story is here?  Is it fair to try to find a pattern in data like this?  What conclusions can you draw from this?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Demographics, Employment Data, HR Data, U.S. Department of Labor, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Certificates: the New Associate’s Degree?

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has published a new report:  Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees. I’m a big fan of a previous report from these authors, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018 and wrote about it here.

This new report gives a clear look under the hood of one of the staples of our post-secondary education infrastructure: the certificate.

Take a look. It’s not a hard read.

Uniquely American, certificates are widely varied in their positive impacts and largely ignored by private, public and government socioeconomic surveyors. The study’s authors contend that if certificates “with a demonstrated labor market value” were counted in official post-secondary surveys as “credentials” they would improve the U.S.’s post-secondary completion position from 15th to 10th among industrialized nations (OECD countries).

And 1 million certificates were awarded in 2010 – up from 300,000 in 1994.

Interesting data from the report include:

  • Certificates are the fastest growing form of post-secondary credentials in the U.S. increasing from 6% in 1980 to 22% today
  • 20% of certificate holders go on to get two-year degrees
  • 13% of certificate holders go on to complete four-year degrees
  • Workers with certificates earn an average 20% more than workers with just high school degrees

As talent management and HR professionals continue to struggle to find “qualified” workers to fill their openings, perhaps a new look at the experience and credentials they require might open a large segment of fully qualified workers – those with certificates instead of college degrees.

Something to think about.

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Filed under Career Planning, Certificates, China Gorman, Demographics, Education Deficit, Employment Data, Post-secondary education, Talent Management, Talent pipeline, Unemployment

Data Point #11: Talent optimism vs. realism

We’re surrounded by all kinds of data points about the talent/skill shortage.  I wrote about it here and here.  Today we have two data points:  one comes from SHRM’s Q2 2012 Jobs Outlook Survey Report and the second comes from the BLS 2012 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

SHRM’s Jobs Outlook Survey has some interesting data from a small sample of its 250,000+ members.  (This particular survey was sent to 3,000 randomly selected SHRM members with 336 members responding, for an 11% response rate.)  These quarterly JOS surveys ask HR professionals interesting questions about optimism in job growth, planned changes in total staff levels, categories of workers companies will hire and categories of workers most difficult to hire in the previous quarter.

I was particularly interested in the responses to the question asking which categories of workers were most difficult to hire in the 1st Quarter of this year.  The sample is small (n=246), so the data are directional at best, but do line up with other data sources.

This data is congruent with BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) data relative to education level attainment and the corresponding unemployment rates in April.  The higher the unemployment rate, the lower the difficulty to hire:

  • Less than high school:                                   12.5%
  • High school no college:                                  7.9%
  • Some college or Associate degree:               7.6%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher:                         4.0%

In other words, it’s more difficult to find skilled professionals and managers in this job market because there are fewer of them unemployed and there are fewer of them overall.  It’s easier to find service workers and unskilled manual workers because more of them are unemployed and there are more of them overall.

But still, as the SHRM report highlights, employers are having difficulty in hiring at all levels.  Which makes me wonder:  are we being unnecessarily restrictive in our job specifications?  Are we hiring people with college degrees when an associate degree would suffice?  Are we requiring associate degrees when a high school degree would be adequate?  I don’t know the answer, but considering the data is interesting.

The Occupation Outlook Handbook, published by the BLS, shows the projected job growth by education category in the 2010-2020 decade:

While the number of jobs created in this decade that will require a Bachelor’s degree or higher is predicted to be nearly 5 million, the number of jobs predicted to be created requiring some college/no degree or less is nearly 13 million.

So if the key to employment (and financial) security for the average worker is a Bachelor’s degree, but the greatest numbers of jobs being created in the next decade won’t require a Bachelor’s degree, how do we reconcile this as employers?

Do we hire college educated workers for jobs that only require a high school diploma?  Are we already doing that now?

Do we work to raise the general level of worker education because we believe it’s the key to global competitiveness?

Do we encourage students to enroll in career and technical education programs in and after high school rather than college because those are the skills needed in the economy?

The data around employers having difficulty finding the talent/skills they need isn’t as simple as it looks.  It’s actually quite challenging.  Under every layer of data is another layer of data.  Solving our talent attraction and acquisition needs won’t be solved with one tactic. But it’s a safe bet that solving our talent challenges will include strengthening relationships between employers and the education infrastructure to produce the skills our economy really needs.

As I look at the data, the optimist in me says we’re covered over in opportunity.  The realist in me says we’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time in which to do it.

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Demographics, Education Deficit, Employment Data, HR, Post-secondary education, SHRM, Talent Management, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Data Point # 10: The Unemployment Rate Went Down? Really?

There is no irony in data.  Except if you put two graphs side by side that tell the same but different story.

The April employment data was released on Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, which, of course, is part of the U.S. Federal Government.  The BLS paired these two graphs together.  Chart 1 shows the civilian labor force unemployment rate from April 2010 through April 2012.  Chart 2 shows the growth (or not) of nonfarm payroll employment in the same time frame.

Given this data, it’s a little hard to understand why  the unemployment rate went down .1 point to 8.1% during a month when far fewer jobs were created than in the previous 6 months.

During the slow crawl out of the Recession, many economists and pundits positioned that for the unemployment rate to hold steady month over month, a minimum of 150,000 new jobs would need to be created in that month.  And yet the data show that in a month when only 115,000 new jobs were created and the number of employed people was down 169,000, the unemployment rate still went down.  How does that math work?

Here’s the chart that makes sense of it all direct from the BLS Employment Situation Report:

The civilian labor force actually decreased from March to April by 342,000; the number of employed people decreased 169,000; the number of unemployed people (still looking for work) dropped by 173,000; and the number of people not in the labor force grew by 522,000.  What we can’t tell is how many of the unemployed became discouraged and stopped looking for work.  They drop out of all calculations.

If we do the math, the lower unemployment rates over the last several months are not the result of job growth, but rather a shrinking civilian labor force and a decrease in the labor force participation rate.

While the numbers of the unemployed – that’s people unemployed and actively looking for work – appear to be shrinking, the numbers of people “not in the labor force” is growing.  And growing rapidly – by nearly 3 million in the last year alone.  We can’t tell from this data whether the rapidly growing number of people not in the labor force are Baby Boomers retiring (that wouldn’t be totally unexpected) or more discouraged unemployed people dropping out of the job search.  But it’s a safe bet that it isn’t entirely people – Boomers or otherwise – voluntarily leaving the workforce.

So.  The number of discouraged unemployed workers grows at the same time the number of participants in the labor force is decreasing.  And that results in a lower unemployment rate.  Maybe data is ironic after all.

How’s this scenario?  What happens when the economy and the job market really improve and the discouraged unemployed workers re-enter the job market?  Under this math, the unemployment rate could very well go up.  The more workers are in the workforce — either employed or actively looking for work — the higher the number of jobs we’ll need to create to keep the unemployment percentage even.

Bottom line:  the lowering unemployment rate isn’t about more workers going back to work at all.  It’s about more workers leaving the economy.  Really.

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Demographics, Employment Data, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Data Point #4: Cyclical vs. Structural Unemployment

The U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics is a gold mine of information.  It crunches massive amounts of data having to do with labor and the economy, and is prolific in providing projections for the future.  (See previous posts here and here.)

An interesting monthly publication put out by the BLS is the Monthly Labor Review.  The January edition included an Overview of projections to 2020 based on its Employment Outlook 2010-2020.  The overview contains a review of the underlying data behind all of the BLS’s projections.  Labor force participation by demographic, the connection between GDP and productivity, job growth by sector/industry, job growth by occupation, job growth by education level – all are included in this overview.

What I found most interesting was a graph and brief discussion comparing the most recent recession and the resulting time to labor market recovery to the previous four recessions.  Take a look at the graph.

We all know that the effects of the 2007-2009 recession are still being felt.  In fact, the graph shows that we are a long way from reaching “recovery to level at start of recession” — some 30 months out from the official end of the recession.  No surprise, but perhaps the combination of the length of the recovery together with the continued gap between where we are and the “recovery to level at start of recession” is noteworthy.  Also of note:  this overview reports that the BLS sets the “natural rate of unemployment” at 5.2%.  We’re still a long way from the recovery to level at start of recession rate — and a much longer way from the natural rate some 40 months from the official start of the recession.

The real question is, why is this recovery taking so long compared to the previous recoveries shown in the graph?  Labor market analysts discuss the cyclical vs. structural causes that continue to depress hiring and job creation.  Cyclical unemployment occurs when workers are laid off because of weak demand, but who expect to be re-hired when demand picks up – usually by the same organization, and usually in the same occupation or industry.

Structural changes in the economy also create job loss – our most recent recession proved that unequivocally.  Structural unemployment could also be caused by weak demand, but is fundamentally caused by other dynamics that impede workers’ abilities to return to work when demand picks up.  For example, new technology and resulting productivity gains may reduce the need to rehire workers with less current skills and may reduce the number of workers needed even after recovery.   As time goes on, the skills deficit of the structurally unemployed gets bigger and so they may well experience longer periods of unemployment.  Retraining in new occupations will be required for these workers in many cases.  Sound familiar?

As HR and talent management professionals take into account the impact of both cyclical and structural unemployment in their locations and industries, their approach to creating a robust talent pipeline will be far more realistic and attainable if they focus on causes of structural unemployment.  Just as employers are having difficulty finding the skills they need, the structurally unemployed are having difficulty finding new homes for their outdated skills.

Surely the answer is obvious to more than me.

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cyclical Unemployment, Employment Data, Job Creation, Monthly Labor Review, Structural Unemployment, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment